Buffalo offers ideas to developers for more downtown vitality
By Doug Voerding
The area circled in red is called Phase One. That's where city officials are focusing attention and generating ideas for ways to develop downtown Buffalo. In the future, the area circled in yellow will be addressed, as well. (Illustration courtesy of the City of Buffalo)
Keeping downtown Buffalo vital was the prime topic for Buffalo Mayor Teri Lachermeier during a special gathering on June 6. (Photo by Doug Voerding)
"It has always been the goal of the Buffalo City Council to keep downtown Buffalo vital," said Mayor Teri Lachermeier, "and now we want to add more vitality to downtown, utilizing what we already have in the downtown area."
Lachermeier was talking to a group of developers, downtown business owners and downtown residents at an informal meeting on Tuesday, June 6 at the Wild Marsh Golf Club.
According to Lachermeier, the city, prompted by the closing of Coborn's, has been working for several months to come up with possible ideas on ways to develop the area around the former Coborn's and the former NAPA buildings, an area called Phase One.
"Our ideas are concepts only," said Lachermeier. "We are open to all kinds of ideas and are hoping you developers can see the potential."
Lachermeier also talked about the unique appeal of the downtown area with its view of and access to Buffalo Lake.
To bring more life to downtown, the city's ideas include adding apartments and townhouses and small businesses in a variety of configurations. Two ideas both include reconnecting Second Ave. S. Both ideas show apartments and mixed-use buildings, as well as townhomes, a parking structure and green space.
Rather than competing with the larger businesses on Highway 55 and Highway 25, the city would like to attract small businesses and smaller stores that would cater to the people living in the area. Those specialty shops would also help bring visitors and shoppers to downtown.
To assist developers, the city has researched the demographics of the wider area, those living within a fifteen-minute drive.
That research shows there are 38,100 people living in 13,750 households. Of those, 57 percent have incomes between $50,000 and $150,000, and 54 percent are between the ages of 25 and 64.
Said City Administrator Mert Auger, "We don't know what developers want to do, but we are talking high density. The city council and the planning commission support development, as does the city housing and redevelopment authority (HRA). And, for sure, we don't want to get in the way of developers and their ideas."
Assistant City Administrator Laureen Bodin told the group about the "tool box" the city can offer developers.
"We have many tools available for developers," said Bodin. "That includes: tax increment financing, grant and loan programs, possible tax abatement, market analyses, and market plans."
Bodin also said Phase 1 of an environmental study is complete.
"We are open to new ideas," said Bodin. "We are not dictating. Come with your ideas. The city wants to create an environment that works for the developer."
At the close of the meeting, Lachermeier said, "Now, we need some conversations with developers. If you want to do this, we want this to happen."
Woman rescued after tree fell on house
Numerous trees were down in the Maple Lake and Monticello areas after the storm last Sunday, June 11. This photo with Monticello High School in the background was taken at Cardinal Hills Park in Monticello. (Photo by Ed DuBois)
By Ed DuBois
A woman was rescued by Maple Lake firefighters after a tree fell on her house during the severe storm that blew through Wright County last Sunday morning, June 11.
Maple Lake Fire Chief Steve Peterson said the woman was pinned in her bedroom around 9:30 a.m. About eight firefighters worked for around 20-30 minutes to remove debris and free the woman. She did not appear to be seriously injured, Peterson said, but she was taken by ambulance for hospital care and treatment.
The location of the house is on the north side of the lake (Maple Lake), Peterson said. Three other houses on the same street were hit by trees, he reported.
Many trees were down in the Monticello area, as well.
Steve Berg, Wright County's emergency management coordinator, said the hardest hit areas of Wright County during the June 11 storm were Maple Lake and Monticello. Numerous trees and power lines were down after the storm passed, he said.
"Some areas of Monticello didn't get power until 9 p.m.," Berg mentioned. "Houses were damaged by trees, and large branches fell on them. Measured wind speeds in the Monticello area were 70 mph or more."
"No tornados or funnel clouds were spotted, and no large hail was reported," he added. "We had a report of pooling water in Delano, but no flooding."
After passing through this area, the storm continued into the metro area. Power outages affected more than 100,000 homes in Central Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, according to WCCO, Channel 4 TV.
In Buffalo, Joe Steffel, city utilities director, said numerous homes were without power Sunday.
"At approximately 8:20 a.m. in the Solbakken area, there was an ash tree that split and fell into a 12,400-volt overhead line causing the relay circuit breaker to open in the Buffalo Substation," he reported. "The subsequent electric outage affected an estimated 300 residential customers and one commercial customer. The tree was removed from the overhead line, and power was restored."
The total estimated outage time was 85 minutes.
"There was also a Braddock Ave. residence out of power due to a storm-related component failure. The component was replaced, and power was restored in approximately one hour," Steffel said.
The storm delayed the opening Buffalo Days celebration events at the Buffalo Airport. The summer pop concert in Sturges Park Sunday evening was moved to the high school.
Stepping forward at BHS
Soon going their separate ways, Buffalo High School seniors take part in a ceremonial procession. See more BHS graduation photos in the "A" Section and the School News pages inside this week's issue of the Journal-Press. (Photo by Doug Voerding)
Home from Cuba for surprise
Serving in Guantanamo, Cuba with the National Guard unit from Monticello, Spc. Brianna Marschel (left) was able to get a leave to surprise her brother, Christian (center), at the Buffalo High School graduation rehearsal last week. Their mom, Joy (right), joined the hug. Bri stayed for the graduation ceremony and was scheduled to fly back to Cuba Wednesday, June 14. (Photo by Ed DuBois)
Matt Muntifering served as pilot for First Lady while she was in Italy
Buffalo native Matt Muntifering (tall soldier just to the right of First Lady) recently served as a pilot for First Lady Melania Trump while she was in Europe for the G7 summit. Mrs. Trump requested a picture with the helecopter crew. Muntefering grew up in Buffalo, "mostly on Lake Pulaski." He graduated from Buffalo High School in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Matt Muntifering)
By Ed DuBois
Buffalo native Matt Muntifering, who is overseas with the Army, recently served as a pilot for First Lady Melania Trump while she was in Europe for the G7 summit.
Via email, Muntifering was able to tell about the experience. He said he would "try to give you as much information as I'm allowed."
"I served as the air mission commander and pilot in command for the flight of the First Lady and several other White House staff members on my helicopter in Sicily, Italy in late May," he said.
The First Lady and the President were there attending the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, following their trip to several other countries. Muntifering was tasked to fly the First Lady from Taormina along the Sicilian coast to Catania for tours and meetings, and then back to Taormina later in the day for more G7 activities.
"It was about a 20 to 25-minute flight to Catania, and roughly the same back to Taormina," Muntifering reported. "I spoke briefly with the First Lady during the flight and then again once we landed back at Taormina. The conversation consisted of talking about Sicily and enjoying her time there, thanking her for flying with us and allowing us to help her out, and how it was a great honor to have her on board."
"She was very polite and appreciative of the ride, saying thank you multiple times," Muntifering continued. "She reiterated a couple times to look out for each other and stay safe as service members. She came off as sincere and was really a nice person to talk to."
Mrs. Trump requested a picture with the helicopter crew, "and of course we obliged," Muntifering said.
He is stationed with 1-214th General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB) in Germany, and has been there for about the past five years.
"We regularly fly VIPs all over Europe, so the tasking was fairly normal for our mission set. We spend more time in various locations around Europe than we do at our home station," Muntifering stated. "I have worked with the President's helicopter squadron (HMX -1) several times now, first flying in formation with President Obama's Marine helicopters, and now President Trump's. I have flown in formation with Vice President Biden's helicopter a couple times in the past, as well. Most of the pilots and crews in our unit are prepared and qualified to carry out these types of missions."
Muntifering grew up in Buffalo, "mostly on Lake Pulaski." He graduated from Buffalo High School in 2004, and then St. Cloud State University with a bachelor's degree in 2008. He is currently a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, pursuing a master's degree of Science in Aeronautics.
His current rank is Chief Warrant Officer Two (CW2), and he is a Black Hawk helicopter instructor pilot. He joined the Army in 2010 and almost immediately enter-ed flight training, so he has been flying for about six years.
"I have been a Black Hawk pilot for my entire career and deployed to Afghanistan as a Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) pilot in 2014-2015," Munti-fering said.
Local option sales tax approved
By Ed DuBois
A decision on adding a local option sales tax to fund highway projects was put on hold a month ago by the Wright County Board to see what the State Legislature was going to do in regard to transportation funding.
A decision was made at the Board's meeting last Tuesday, June 13.
Commissioner Mike Potter described the Legislature's action on transportation funding as "baby steps." He offered a motion to approve a one-half-cent (one-half of one percent) local option sales tax, and the motion passed 4-1, along with an amendment for the new sales tax to expire on Dec. 31, 2022.
Commissioner Mark Daleiden initially proposed a five-year period for the tax, and then Commissioner Darek Vetsch offered the amendment for a Dec. 31, 2022 expiration.
Commissioner Potter, who has been a strong proponent for the local option sales tax, was in favor of no set expiration date. He pointed out that the County Board could repeal the tax at any time. He added that the new sales tax would not be needed if the state and federal governments devoted more funds to maintaining the highways.
"This (tax) can go away if the state and the federal government do what they are supposed to do," he said.
Meanwhile, the local option sales tax is a "tool" offered by the state to help complete local highway projects, and many counties have been using that tool. Now, Wright County is one of them. The new sales tax is going into effect this October.
Virgil Hawkins, the county highway engineer, said he plans to "do as much as we can" in the next five years with the local options sales tax revenue. He has a prepared list of high-priority highway projects, to which the special sales tax money will be devoted.
Potter raised the point that five years is not enough time because it takes a long time to prepare for and get projects going.
Board Chair Charlie Borrell said the new sales tax could be extended by the Board if it is needed after five years. He commented that it is easier to let a tax keep going than it is to stop it.
Commissioner Chris Husom expressed agreement with Potter's view. She pointed out that the revenue would be needed until the listed projects are completed. She added that to add to the list would require the County Board's approval.
The amendment offered by Vetsch to end the local option sales tax on Dec. 31, 2022 passed 3-1 with Husom opposed and with Potter abstaining.
A resolution establishing the local option sales tax was approved 4-1 with Borrell opposed.
In other business:
The Board decided to waive any claim of buffer enforcement funds recently made available by the state.
Board Chair Borrell said the county and the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) are already working with farmers in regard to maintaining or adding buffer strips between farm fields and bodies of water. He called for letting the state handle buffer enforcement.
A deadline to request the funds from the state is approaching, but several commissioners commented there is confusion about the new buffer law and how it will be enforced. They want time to learn more about it and get answers to questions.
Borrell commented that legal costs for enforcing the law locally would likely exceed the funds offered by the state.
Commissioner Mark Daleiden suggested accepting the funds from the state, but the other commissioners agreed to let the funds go for now in 2017.
A motion to waive any claim to the funds was passed 4-1 with Daleiden opposed.
The Central Minnesota Mental Health Center (CMMHC) has proposed revisions to their governance structure. The County Board discussed the idea of the CMMHC serving the public as a nonprofit organization and being able to receive funds from both public and private sources. The Board approved a motion that supports the CMMHC's proposed revisions.
At the request of Merton Auger, the Buffalo city administrator, the Board agreed to attend a meeting with Wright County Area Transit (WCAT) at the Trailblazer facility in Buffalo on Tuesday, June 20 at 2 p.m. WCAT has been negotiating terms with McLeod and Sibley Counties after serving notice to separate from the two counties several months ago. WCAT is an organization of almost all the cities in Wright County, and their purpose is to make sure bus services are provided in Wright County.
In other actions, the Board:
• approved a new tobacco license for the new Mills Fleet Farm location in Monticello;
• approved a request from the Sheriff's Office to temporarily classify Deputy Scott Albrecht as a sergeant;
• approved filling a position for an office tech II in the Child Support L-Z Unit of Health and Human Service, as well as filling an office technician I position in the County Recorder's Office; and
• approved $359,966 in claims involving 433 transactions with 261 vendors.
Dassel family grieving loss of young man who drowned
By Ed DuBois
The family of an 18-year-old who graduated this spring from Dassel-Cokato High School is grieving after he drowned in the Crow River last week.
Sheriff Hagerty expressed thanks to all of the volunteers who spent countless hours in the search effort over several days.
A search was underway June 5, and the search ended June 8.
Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty reported, "At approximately 5:30 p.m. on June 8, the Wright County Communications Center received a call from volunteers assisting with the search in the Crow River for a missing 18-year-old male. The volunteer searchers reported they had located a body in the Crow River downstream from where a swimmer went missing days earlier."
A funeral for Levi Wuollet, 18, of Dassel was scheduled on Wednesday morning, June 14 at Laestadian Lutheran Church of Cokato. (See complete obituary elsewhere in this week's issue of the Journal-Press for more information.)
He is remembered for a smile he always had on his face, and for his love of many activities, such as: downhill skiing, swimming, waterskiing, boating, camping, and many others he enjoyed with family and friends.