Low income housing and land issue at hand
By Clay Schuldt
On Nov. 26 the Caledonia City Council returned to a property issue first discussed at the Nov. 13 meeting — a land encroachment issue brought by Andy and Cheri Allen. The Allens presented a land survey and picture showing adjacent property owners Dean and Henrietta Foltz had built a retaining wall partially on the Allens’ property. A question of the wall’s height also became an issue. The wall itself does meet Caledonia’s ordinances in terms of height, but due to the grade of the land the Allens are claiming the wall exceeds the 10-foot limitation. However, the council could not confirm if this, too, was an ordinance violation.
Since this meeting Administrative Coordinator Mike Gerardy and the City Council confirmed that the Foltzes’ fence had crossed into the Allens’ property. Dean Foltz was not at the meeting but did tell the council that he considered that land part of his property, as he had been taking care of the land up to the fence line. Foltz’s argument was the land was his through adverse possession, and was prepared to take the issue to court.
The Allens were once again present and wanted know what could be done, since the wall did break the zoning ordinance.
Mayor Robert Burns said that while the zoning ordinance read that neither a wall nor fence could be built across or on a property line, the ordinance did not have the “teeth” to punish an infraction. According to the city attorney it is more of a civil issue.
Burns said the council could vote to withdraw a building permit that was requested by Foltz. Foltz had requested a building permit three years ago, but had yet to begin construction. Burns commented that building permits were not open ended and the council could revoke the permit until the issue with the wall was settled.
Cheri Allen questioned why the city cannot simply enforce the law by making Foltz move the wall back. “In my opinion if you say this law is on paper, and he doesn’t move the wall, you are saying anyone can do this anytime they want and there are no ramifications,” Allen said.
Burns requested a reading of the zoning ordinance that spelled out the recourses for this violation. According to the ordinance a violator would be subject to a misdemeanor and could be subject to a fine, proving that the Allens did have legal recourse. In response to the issue of adverse possession claims made by Foltz, Andy Allen said the situation did not meet the necessary requirements. In conclusion, Burns made a motion to revoke the Foltz zoning permit, which was passed unanimously by the council.
SEMMCHRA services for 2013-2017
Joe Wheeler, executive director of the Southeastern Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (SEMMCHRA), came to the Caledonia City Council meeting to discuss using his organization’s services in Caledonia. As part of the agreement Caledonia would need to hold a public hearing to authorize and establish SEMMCHRA as the housing and redevelopment authority for the city. Wheeler explained that SEMMCHRA wishes to establish a housing project in Caledonia that would require Section 8 voucher assistance. This would not affect the Bluff Country Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Wheeler admitted the acquiring of Section 8 vouchers had been a political issue. “I guess I’ve been known to do the right thing; I may not necessarily do the correct political thing,” said Wheeler.
In March of this year the Houston County Board of Commissioners voted to transfer Section 8 vouchers from SEMMCHRA to the Bluff Country Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Wheeler commented on this decision, saying there were a lot of misstatements in the resolution and was not factual.
The SEMMCHRA board gave Wheeler instructions to meet with individual cities in an effort to establish projects. Wheeler’s proposal carried a maximum levy effort of $22,605. However, if Caledonia chose to stick to General Services the costs would be $4,367.
Councilmember Paul Fisch inquired if it were possible to enter an agreement only for Section 8 Rental Assistance. Wheeler believed it was possible, but would have to check with the SEMMCHRA board to negotiate an arrangement with Caledonia. SEMMCHRA does require a five-year commitment with Caledonia. Wheeler estimated the cost over the five years should not increase more than 3 percent.
Following Wheeler’s presentation, Bluff Country Family Resources Director Robin Tschumper updated the council on the program’s work. Like many social agencies, funding has become a serious issue. Tschumper explained to the council that the abused children program was cut completely due to a lack of funding. Tschumper estimated her agency assisted an averaged 160 children a year.
“If we don’t start finding some relief, we’re going to have to walk away from the housing program,” Tschumper stated. Without the housing program Family Resources will not receive funding for staff and it could potentially put an end to the agency.
No decision was made by the council, as Burns explained they would need to research the issue beforehand.
Klug variance denied again
During the Oct. 8 City Council meeting Bill Klug made a variance request to construct a 15-by-35-foot addition to an existing garage. At that meeting the variance was denied due to its proximity to a utility easement.
An electric line to a street light was in the easement, but according to City Electrician Matt Blocker, it was possible that other lines belonging to cable companies or phone companies could also be in the same easement. A certain amount of clearance is necessary to allow construction equipment in to dig up and repair lines, and the proposed addition block access.
Klug returned to the council with an alternative. He received permission to move the easement on to property of his eastern neighbor. This would give Klug the additional space needed for the utility easement, but would still be 5 feet from his property line, which would still require a variance.
Councilmember Paul Fisch was against the request, saying, “You open it up to 5 feet, and it will be 5 feet forever.” By allowing the 5-foot variance it would set precedence.
In an effort to move forward on the issue Mayor Robert Burns made a motion to approve the request for the 5-foot variance, but the motion failed for a lack of a second.
Star Energy projects
Tom Nigon and Chuck Gustafson from Star Energy gave a presentation on the proposed electrical projects for 2013. The presentation summarized the remaining work necessary to convert Caledonia from 4 kilovolts to 12.5 kilovolts, which is part of the long-range goal of converting from Caledonia’s old substation to the new Wild Turkey substation.
After updating the council on last year’s project, the council was shown five options for 2013, the total cost of which being $1,349,000.
The council said the city could afford to finish three of the five options in 2013. Mayor Robert Burns made a motion to approve the East Feeder Update ($422,000), Sunset Feeder Upgrade ($293,000) and the County Highway 5 Improvements ($43,000), for total estimated cost of $758,000. The motion was approved by the board. The $241,000 Sewer Plant Upgrade project will be postponed until 2014.
• The council discussed issues with the new turning lanes on Hwy. 44. Since the installation of the new lane, many people have been mistaking the turning lane as part of a double-lane highway. It was suggested that signs be posted explaining the change.
• Councilmember Paul Fisch requested that the lighting for the walking path along Highway 44 be repaired. During the roadway construction the wiring to the lights was damaged and never repaired. He reasoned that since the lights were damaged during the construction process, Caledonia should not have to pay for the necessary repairs.
• The council passed a motion establishing a fund balance policy.
• An application for a gambling permit at St. Mary’s Church was approved.
• An increase to household fees charged by Houston County from $2.50 to $3.10 was approved on the basis that there is an agreement on the number of households Caledonia is charged.
• Tim Penny spoke to the council to give an update on the Southeast Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). Penny said the two main areas of the foundation were entrepreneurship and early childhood education and that they provide grants for such efforts.
• An open house welcome celebration for new City Clerk/Administrator Ted Schoonover was scheduled for Dec. 7 from 1 to 3 p.m.