Blighted property

A proposal to restore the concrete lot next to the Le Sueur mural into turf was rejected by the Le Sueur Council amid concerns that the property owners should be responsible for cleaning the site. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

After a public hearing last week, the Le Sueur City Council voted on Monday to order reconstruction plans for County Road 36. Before the vote, city staff affirmed that they planned to address public feedback related to observed high speed traffic on South Main Street and a proposed sidewalk extension into the neighborhood.

At the same meeting, city staff proposed an agreement to remove the concrete pad on 1200 N. Commerce St., the former site of the old Green Giant operation. Staff considered the concrete a blight on the community and proposed a 50/50 cost-sharing agreement with the property owner to remove it. However, the council turned down the proposal amid concerns that the city should not be involved and full financial responsibility for maintaining the property rests with the owner.

County Road 36

Upon ordering the plans for County Road 36, the Le Sueur City Council moved one step closer to the reconstruction project targeted at restoring poor road conditions and underground utilities on the south end of town up South Main Street to the intersection with Ferry Street, and Ferry Street into the intersections of South Fourth Street and Smith Street.

The reconstruction project is a joint effort between the city and Le Sueur County with an estimated total cost of $10.5 million. Le Sueur County is to contribute $4.6 million toward road and storm sewer improvements on County Road 36, while the city would spend $5.6 million on utilities as well as water, wastewater and roadway improvements on city-owned streets.

City staff are also considering repairing and extending sidewalks to the end of South Main Street after an open house where several residents requested it. The proposal met pushback from several residents of the neighborhood who felt the area was not suitable for pedestrian walkways on both sides because of observed high speed truck traffic.

City Engineer Corey Bienfang offered to commission an internal speed study to confirm how fast cars are traveling on the highway. The speed study would be completed on Sept. 30 so the results could be shared with the public at the open house in April of next year.

“I think it would help validate and provide a true data point for what is the speed experience on 36,” said Bienfang. “I think that data will be helpful both for a public understanding as well as us as a staff level as a city.”

In the event the speed study produces data validating resident testimonies of high speed traffic, Bienfang said the city could look into speed control measures such as a radar sign similar to the speed limit sign posted on County Road 22. Because the speed study would be conducted internally rather than through MNDOT, the actual speed limit of the road would not be changed.

On the issue of the sidewalk. Bienfang said there was lots of discussion to be had and that staff was reviewing both sides of the issue — those that want both sidewalks extended and those who want one or none of the sidewalks lengthened into South Main.

Commerce blight restoration

While the city moves forward on the County Road 36 project, city staff came forward with a proposal made possible by the ongoing County Road 22 project. Reclamation will soon be underway on Commerce Street and city staff saw an opportunity to further utilize the ongoing construction by adding another project to the schedule.

The agreement proposed by city staff would remove the concrete foundations and pads left over from the old Green Giant building on 1200 N. Commerce St. and restore the site to turf for a new development opportunity. Bienfang saw the project as a chance to clear a blight and beautify the city.

“It’s pretty unsightly. There’s rebar sticking out, there’s noticeable sinkholes now where the concrete’s failed, and there’s cavity void spaces underneath,” said Bienfang. “It’s definitely a blight and there’s some drainage concern and safety concerns and just unsightliness.”

City Administrator Jasper Kruggel said that the property had long been a nuisance for the city to deal with.

“It’s a challenging site to deal with. Generally speaking we’ve had to send nuisance letters there in the past and then it’s brought up to the minimum standard,” said Kruggel. “It’s something we, as the city, are constantly monitoring, looking at it, working with the property owner to maintain that base level.”

Under the proposed agreement, the city would split the estimated $88,000 cost of the project in half with the property owner. The city would pay for its side of the project through a contingency fund set aside in the County Road 22 project.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to change the complexion of the community as you come into town,’ said Mayor Shawn Kirby. “I think the timing is good with it.”

But the rest of the council did not share the same level of enthusiasm for the project. Councilor Newell Krogmann said he was troubled by the idea that the city would split the costs of cleaning up a site with a property owner rather than expecting the owner to take care of their own site.

“It seems to me when an owner obtains property they assume the responsibility for it,” said Krogmann. “It’s troubling to me that someone would get this property, and eventually the city is now buying in to help clean up the property … The property owner should be responsible for what happens on that property, not the city.”

Krogmann further warned that pursuing this agreement could set an expectation among other landowners that the city will chip in to clean up their blighted properties.

“This is really troubling to me to think of what we’re doing here, because if there’s other property in other places, every time this comes up now, it’s going to be our turn to chip in what should have been done by someone else,” said Krogmann.

Mayor Kirby motioned the council to approve the agreement, but none on the council seconded the motion, allowing it to die before a vote.

Reach Reporter Carson Hughes at 507-931-8575. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All Rights Reserved.

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