NEW ULM - The City Council unanimously approved 2014 street improvement projects Tuesday.
The bulk of the hearing, which preceded the vote, was dedicated to South Garden improvements, which will run from Center Street to 8th South Street. The project includes the construction of bike lanes and a pedestrian crosswalk and median. This plan would narrow traffic lanes and eliminates on-street parking on the west side of Garden Street and on the south side of 8th South Street. Parking adjacent to the ball fields and tennis courts would be unchanged. Parking on both sides of Garden Street would be eliminated near the pedestrian crosswalk.
Robert Beck spoke on behalf of the New Ulm Bicycle Club and the Coalition of Active Safe and Healthy Streets. Beck favored the improvements because the plan encourages the use of bicycles and allows safer crossing for pedestrians.
Dennis Born asked why two bike lanes were needed on Garden Street.
City Engineer Steve Koehler responded that the single lane option was considered but it might introduce a conflict of bikers traveling against vehicle traffic. He said the proposed layout was the safest solution and would only effect parking during certain events. "We're, frankly, fortunate to have a 40-foot wide street in this part of town. Most cities don't have that availability," said Koehler.
Park and Rec Director Tom Schmitz said the changes with the pedestrian traffic from the schools to the parks and the mid street crossing were a good idea.
City Manager Brian Gramentz added the Garden Street project was a culmination of ideas that include creating safe routes from the schools and the Heart of New Ulm program. He said the plan addresses several issues the city has been dealing with for years.
Councilor Les Schultz said the changes might result in push back from the public about the lack of parking, but he believed the welfare and safety of the public were top priorities.
Koehler pointed out that many of the parking spaces being eliminated were already marked as no parking, but had simply been ignored by the public.
Several residents questioned special assessments and received estimates from Koehler. Residents can pay for the assessments on property taxes over a 10-year period or in a single payment.
Rick and Bonnie Howk of South Broadway spoke on the Block 104 South Center Alley reconstruction. Rick Howk expressed concerns on maintaining access to their driveway because no parking is available on Broadway and 1st South Street is used by Bank Midwest employees. Howk also questioned the need to repair the alley.
Koehler said the alley has cracks and potholes. The reconstruction should be limited to four weeks and could be conducted without blocking access to the Howk driveway, he said.
The Council reviewed a proposed amendment to the City Code regarding the noise ordinance that was requested in February. City staff were directed to bring a schedule indicating the time line to amend the City Code noise regulations and Planning Commission timeline for a request for a variance by New Ulm Steel and Recycling.
A review of operations at the recycling company found it had violated the noise ordinance. However, the Council felt the current noise ordinance was relatively strict compared to other communities. The Council chose to compromise and make changes to the noise ordinance if NUSR would make efforts to decrease noise, which include allowing the construction of a fence to reduce noise and block potential flying debris.
According to the schedule the new noise ordinance will not go into effect until May 23, 2014.
City Attorney Hugh Nierengarten was instructed to draft an ordinance amending New Ulm's Noise Code to meet the State Standard.
Dog Park Donation and Application
The Council accepted a $508 donation from Pups Playland and $100 donation from SouthPoint Federal Credit Union to the Park and Rec Department. It also approved a grant application to Bank Midwest Dog Park development. If the application is accepted, the Dog Park could receive up to $15,000 in grant funds. At this time the Dog Park volunteers have raised more than $7,000. The funds will be used to build a chain link perimeter fence around the park. The estimated cost of the fence is $15,000. Future developments could include, lighting, water, off street parking, benches and landscaping.