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Walkers will enjoy path through Econo lot

Everyone who attended Monday's special New Richmond City Council meeting seemed to be in favor of Econofoods planned expansion project. That much was clear.

But several local citizens, who serve on the city's Multi-Purpose Pathway Committee, spoke against current plans that direct bicycles and pedestrians away from the site.

Irv Sather told the City Council the community adopted a plan in 2003 to encourage safe trail connections among schools, parks, shopping and neighborhoods.

Speaking during a public hearing on a resolution to vacate Minnesota Avenue (from West Fourth Street to West Fifth Street) to accommodate the grocery store project, Sather said the most reasonable pathway to connect the city's Rail Bridge Trail and the downtown district runs along Minnesota Avenue.

He suggested the City and Nash Finch (owners of the store) negotiate a pedestrian and possible bicycle path on the western edge of the Econofoods property.

"We want to make sure there is a safe passageway," he said.

Pathway Committee member Kathleen Earley agreed.

"I'm very disappointed that this wasn't discussed earlier," she said. "It just seems to me that it's getting pushed to the side."

She said pedestrian and bicycle traffic near the grocery store would be a benefit to Econofoods.

But Director of Planning and Community Development Robert Barbian told those in attendance that bicycle traffic through the expanded Econofoods parking lot would be a safety hazard. Plans call for a bicycle route, with striped lanes on both sides of the road, to travel down Dakota Avenue to West First Street and then west to the pathway over the millpond dam.

A bicycle path along the western edge of the Econofoods lot wouldn't work, Barbian said, because Berquist Insurance Agency intends to stay in its current location, blocking access to a crossing at Fourth Street.

The standard 12 feet needed for a safe bicycle path would also significantly cut into the additional parking Nash Finch hopes to install, said Todd Rymer, director of real estate for Nash Finch Company in Edina, Minn.

In a compromise, the City Council approved an amendment to its resolution to vacate a portion of Minnesota Avenue, requiring Nash Finch and the City to negotiate a direct pedestrian route through the Econofoods parking lot that will allow for easy access to the downtown district and trails to the north. A pedestrian access will also be added at the Fourth Street and Minnesota Avenue intersection.

"We'll certainly do everything we can to make that happen," Rymer said.

"It sounds like everybody is trying to do the right thing," Sather said. "As long as the walkers can get through there, that should be OK."

The bicycle route would stay along Dakota, avoiding the Econofoods parking lot.

Other conditions of the resolution require Nash Finch to purchase properties at 431 Minnesota Avenue and 205 West Fifth Street to accommodate the expansion plan; to create a certified survey map of the entire commercial lot; to complete a land swap with Richard Berquist that will allow the plan to proceed; to develop an easement agreement for access for Berquist's office; and to enter into an agreement to move any utilities needed to be moved prior to the expansion.

Rymer told the Council that Econofoods intends to move quickly forward with its proposed plans. The homes, which will be scheduled to be demolished, should be purchased with a month and a half.

Work on the store and parking lot should be completed over the coming months, he said.

In other business:

• Barbian was directed to return a proposal to the City Council on a new policy for how tax increment financing districts will be handled in the future.

Council members indicated they would be in favor of establishing all districts for a maximum life of 20 years. Also, 10 to 20 percent of a district's increment will be set aside for use by the City. That money could then be used for road, safety and lighting improvements within the districts.

• The Council approved the issuance of industrial revenue bonds for Pit Hog Properties II, LLC (Liquid Waste Technology) to help fund their current expansion project.

• City Administrator Dennis Horner said water users may be noticing a funny smell lately. The Department of Natural Resources requires the City to add chlorine to the water supply each summer to cut down on the threat of bacterial contamination. Horner said the DNR is expected to soon require the City to add chlorine all year long.