Week in Review Dec. 22 dn
Real estate auction spurs building boom at The Jewel
Assessing what’s happened at The Jewel golf community since a real estate auction there last year is a little like judging whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Many residential lots remain vacant, with those who bought property during the auction in September 2006 and others who previously purchased lots unable or unwilling to build just yet.
The original investors of The Jewel had the golf course, more than 100 home sites and more than 200 acres of undeveloped residential and commercial land auctioned off. Sales from the auction totaled between $10 million and $12 million.
E-mail about student skirmish at Willow Creek stirs parents
A 13-year-old boy’s alleged assault of a girl of the same age at Willow Creek Middle School has some parents concerned about the safety of students.
Unsatisfied with the way school administrators handled the incident and subsequent punishment, Sheri Hoffman, the mother of the girl, sent a lengthy e-mail about the altercation to several Willow Creek parents, and the message has been forwarded again and again. Some of the parents who’ve read her story are expressing their concerns in e-mails to each other and e-mails forwarded to the Post-Bulletin.
Willow Creek Principal Jeff Elstad said he cannot comment about the incident because of data privacy. He said he has received 10 to 15 related voicemail and e-mail messages from concerned parents and has responded to each. Willow Creek has 1,005 students in grades six through eight.
Traffic clogs interchange near new shopping center
Just a fraction of Rochester’s newest retail complex has been built, but increased traffic in the area already is causing concern.
At issue near the Shoppes on Maine development is the U.S. 63/48th Street Southwest interchange. Congestion started amid a spate of recent store openings in the area and worsened during the holiday shopping season.
Following a request from the city, the Minnesota Department of Transportation installed stop signs last week to stop vehicles on 48th Street where the road intersects with the off-ramp. Vehicles still back up on the off-ramp with the signs in place, but at least traffic flows better now, said Josh Banks, an area resident.
Next month, MnDOT will conduct a study to see if a stoplight is needed, according to MnDOT spokeswoman Kristine Hernandez. The light could be installed as soon as summer if it’s deemed necessary, she added.
$1.7 million church is a ‘modest’ start
It’s one step at a time for a Rochester congregation as it builds a worship center on the city’s north side.
The congregation, CrossWinds church, is erecting a 9,000-square-foot facility on 31st Avenue Northwest. The $1.7 million church will sit on a 20-acre site about a mile from the 75th Street Northwest interchange at U.S. 52.
"It’s a modest first stage for us, but we’re excited about it," said the Rev. Doug Mathers.
Modesty of ambition is a mindset Mathers stresses, but the master plan CrossWinds has developed — allowing for a 100,000-square-foot building — would result in one of Rochester’s largest church complexes.
Athletic club’s owner will finance project featuring wetlands
Wetlands, water and energy will be the focus of a new 100-acre environmental science center being planned for northwest Rochester.
Tentatively called the Cascade Meadow Wetlands and Science Center, the project would transform an undeveloped site south of the Rochester Athletic Club into a wetland habitat study area. It would include restored wetlands and a community education center, said Greg Munson, who is one of the project’s planners and directs Quarry Hill Nature Center in east Rochester.
City buys another building
The downtown transformation will continue within a year when the city of Rochester takes possession of the Minnesota Energy Resources building at First Avenue and Sixth Street Southwest.
Rochester Downtown Development Director Doug Knott said there are no immediate plans for the building, which the city has agreed to purchase for $750,000, but "it fits with the vision of making First Avenue Southwest into an ‘urban village.’"
The approximately 8,000-square-foot building will be razed, Knott said. Buildings a block north, just past Premier Bank, were demolished this year. Further north, construction has started on the Biobusiness Center in the 200 block of First Avenue Southwest, and the University of Minnesota-Rochester is taking hold in downtown.
Minnesota Energy plans to move to three acres in the 3500 block of Technology Drive Northwest, near Pace Electronics, by the end of September.
Olmsted County leaders rip Elk Run development
Olmsted County commissioners made no secret where they stand on Elk Run.
Led by Mike Podulke, commissioners on Tuesday ripped the proposed development, part of an eight-square-mile commercial and residential development zone envisioned near Pine Island. Commissioners unanimously approved sending formal comments listing their objections to the Pine Island city government under a state-mandated planning process called an Alternative Urban Areawide Review.
Podulke called Pine Island "irresponsible" for its role in promoting Elk Run, which if completed in full would be about one-fifth the size of Rochester. Podulke said he feels Pine Island failed to give sufficient thought to many of the costs and wider effects the development is likely to have.
Farmstead sparkles with Christmas lights
Reindeer antler lights that blink off and on, a patriotic fence line, a little bulldozer with moving lights and a glittering train are among the Christmas delights at the Scheevel place.
Ron Scheevel, of rural Preston, began the family tradition years ago, tacking a few strings of lights on the house each Christmas season. His eldest son, Eric, took the decorating a bit farther when he returned to the farm after college about a decade ago.
He strung strings of lights around the sheds. He built fences of lights in the yard. He put rope lights on the grain leg and around the bins.
At their peak, there were 50,000 to 55,000 lights glowing at the place along Kind Road in Fillmore County. This year, there’s somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 lights because the winter and cold came too early.
Area school districts stung in fitness equipment scam
A federal judge’s recent sentencing of a father and son for bilking hundreds of school districts out "free" fitness equipment has local districts, including Byron and Southland Public Schools, wondering if they will get any more of their money back.
The judge ordered former chief executive officer Cameron J. Lewis, 36, and his father, J. Tyron Lewis, 65, both of Utah, to pay $39 million in restitution. Cameron Lewis was sentenced to 17 years in prison for hatching the idea. His father was sentenced to more than five years in prison.
Southland and Byron school districts are among the 350 school districts nationwide and dozens of banks that were defrauded of more than $40 million by the pair.
Some flooded businesses can only wait
Some business owners in southeastern Minnesota who saw their livelihoods washed away in last summer’s floods are now facing delays of up to a year before they can get government aid to relocate and rebuild.
The counties were the businesses were located had never prepared what are called local hazard mitigation plans, which the federal government requires before it will distribute money to buy out individual properties in flood-prone areas.
Jury awards man $50,000
A man who was injured by the Chatfield police chief while being arrested in 2005 has been awarded $50,000 by a federal jury that says the chief used excessive force.
The special jury verdict, which was submitted in August, says that Benjamin Meir of Rochester should receive $50,000 in actual and punitive damages. A federal judge then granted Meir’s attorneys $314,122 in fees and costs. The attorneys’ fees and costs were paid by insurance.
Meir claims that he was tripped by then Chatfield Police Chief Jeffrey McCormick while Meir was handcuffed. Meir fell face-first to ground and broke a tooth, as well as sustaining other injuries to his mouth and face. Several other witnesses claimed that Meir was handcuffed when McCormick tripped him. However, McCormick and other witnesses said Meir was not handcuffed until he was taken to the ground, because Meir was resisting arrest.
Deaths have Winona State students reeling
Three students have died within the past month at Winona State University, prompting other students to put away their cell phones and meet in person to share hugs and stories.
During Thanksgiving break, WSU student Lee Wells was killed in a car accident off campus.
About two weeks ago, Jared Stene, student council president, died at the University of Minnesota Hospital.
And last Friday, Jenna Marie Foellmi, 20, of Brownsville, was found dead at an off-campus apartment.
Second complaint pending against police officer
A second internal complaint is pending against Austin Police Capt. Curt Rude, but details of the complaint have not been disclosed because it is still under investigation.
Rude, who was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 12 pending the investigation of a complaint alleging that he illegally removed bottles of OxyContin from the police department’s evidence room, was suspended without pay Tuesday.
Police Chief Paul Philipp said he could not disclose any more information, and said both complaints are under investigation.
A news release issued Tuesday by the city states that "the internal affairs complaint requiring Rude’s suspension without pay is currently under investigation to determine if additional discipline is warranted against this long-time member of the Austin police force."
Rude was charged Monday in Mower District Court with single felony counts of theft and possession of a controlled substance. He also faces a gross-misdemeanor charge of interfering with property in official custody.
According to the complaint, Rude was found Nov. 6 by another officer in the police training room with two bottles of the drug in his hands, which he attempted to conceal and that he later placed the bottles in a file drawer.
Pool lands city in hot water
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has launched an investigation into whether the city of Stewartville violated state or federal regulations when it demolished its old pool without checking first with the state.
In a letter dated Oct. 10, Jacqueline Deneen with the agency’s air quality and enforcement unit wrote that the city failed to conduct an asbestos survey before demolishing the old bathhouse, pump house and pool. She also said the city did not notify the MPCA of its demolition plans as required.
On Aug. 28, the city council voted to demolish the old pool site. The city is building a $1.9 million pool next to the old site, which will serve as a parking lot.
Stewartville City Administrator Bill Schimmel Jr. said the city consulted with county staff before beginning demolition and was unaware of any permits that needed to be filed with the pollution control agency. He added that the bathhouse and pumphouse did not have any materials like tile, pipe wrapping or insulation that might contain asbestos.