NUCC orders bigger fines for liquor sale violations

NEW ULM – The New Ulm City Council on Tuesday instructed the city attorney to prepare an amendment to the City Code that would increase fines and other penalties for liquor license violations (for sale of alcohol to minors).

The city has a two-tier best-practice program under which fines and penalties are reduced for best-practice establishments. Best-practice is generally defined as an effort by the business to inform employees on rules through formalized training. Best- practice businesses tend to face lower fines and fewer license suspensions.

Currently, in most cases, liquor license violators face fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 and license suspensions ranging from 3 to 15 days. The worst, repeat offenders face license revocations.

As a result of the Tuesday Council action most fines would go up by $250 each.

Under urging from Councilor Ruth Ann Webster, the Council agreed to keep the penalty for a first-time offense by a best-practice establishment unchanged (a fine of $250, no license suspension).

Webster argued against being too harsh on businesses whose employees may have made a simple mistake.

Action on potential sale of tax-forfeited parcels

The Council took action that would pave the way for a sale of tax-forfeited parcels comprising the Dakota West Addition.

The offer for 20 lots, which are just part of the addition, was made by Mike Kral Construction (MKC).

The addition is offered for sale by Brown County.

The Council set the special assessments due to the city at $4,000 for 16 of the parcels in question and at nothing for four others.

A complicating factor is that Brown County controls the land price and the city the special assessment price, explained Gramentz. The MKC proposal combines the two into one price.

As a result of the Council action, the special assessment fund would see a nominal loss of $11,921.50 per lot, reported Gramentz.

The proposed development (town homes geared toward a relatively affluent seniors, in the $200,000-plus price range) would, however, return the lots to the tax rolls and help recoup the city infrastructure investments, noted officials.

Councilor Lisa Fischer voted against the action, citing the need for longer consideration.

Webster, in turn, noted that a development agreement would be a vehicle to ensure that development actually happens, achieving the Council’s civic goals.

Variance denied

The Council denied the application of Philip and Patricia Johnson for a variance from the City Code concerning lot area and depth requirements on the property with a street address 322 N. Washington St.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment had recommended denying the variance, noting that the request would create a 3,250 square feet interior lot which is not in compliance with the zoning ordinance.

The Johnsons own the property at 322 N. Washington and the rear 79. 5 feet of an adjacent corner lot with a street address at 717 4th St. North.

They requested a division to create a 50 foot by 65 foot on the front of 322 N. Washington St.

The Johnsons built a garage on the rear portion of that property and wish to keep this proposed parcel with the dwelling located on 717 4th St. North.

Webster pointed out that the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a very precise ruling recently, with instructions to cities about the conditions for granting a variance.

A variance cannot be granted if an owner’s actions have created the conditions for it, noted Webster. It cannot be granted solely because of economic reasons, or if there are other viable uses for the property without a variance.

Levee assessments

After a public hearing, the Council also approved final special assessments for the Minnesota River levee project.

The total amount specially assessed is $314,183.50, or 14.4 percent of the project cost of $ 2.18 million.

The levee (or berm) benefited 46 parcels, City Manager Brian Gramentz re-iterated during the hearing that preceded the Council action.

In response to questions by concerned owners, City Engineer Steve Koehler clarified that while the city will be responsible for maintaining berm structures (pipes, etc.), property owners will be responsible for tasks such as mowing grass on their respective parcels.

Koehler also clarified that because the berm is not federally certified (constructing a levee that would meet federal certification requirements was found to be cost-prohibitive), owners will still need to buy flood insurance. He added, however, that the City is willing to work with owners to explore options for insurance rate reductions.

City officials also fended off complaints by a property owner concerning water crossing his property and other matters that he sees as levee-agreement related. The city disagrees with the owner’s claims.

In background information on the levee, Gramentz recapped that the city received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to fund $1 million of the project cost. The balance of the project cost was funded out of city operating money.

Assessments for street improvements

The Council also approved, after a hearing, the final assessments for 2012 utility, street and alley improvements.

The total amount is $418,277, or 11.4 percent of the project cost of $3,565,595.90.

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