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Planning Commission tables annexation for bio-fuel pelletizing plant

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Planning Commission tabled a request Wednesday night for orderly annexation of 55 acres of land along Civic Center Drive Northeast for a proposed bio-fuel pelletizing plant.

The annexation proposal was debated for almost an hour before commission members decided they wanted Public Works Director Mel Odens to comment on questions about future traffic access and potential street layouts in the area.

Besides seeking these answers, commission members disagreed on whether the triangular piece of land between Civic Center Drive and the Highway 71/23 bypass should be developed for industrial purposes or for residential purposes.

According to information provided to the commission, the parcel is owned by six people who are petitioning the city to annex their land into the city limits. They would sell the land to Greg Mast of the Twin Cities area, whose family has a history in the alternative fuel industry.

Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, said the plant would make heating fuel pellets out of plant material, such as corn stover. Material would be shipped by trucks.

Peterson said he talked to the developers about using the industrial park, but the developers preferred the site along Civic Center Drive because the property has access to a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line. The line is used for rail car storage and ends near the head of the Glacial Lakes Recreational Trail.

If the property is annexed, the developers propose to zone 20 acres for industrial use and leave the remaining 35 acres in agricultural use for future development. The plant would be enclosed and all deliveries would be made in covered trucks. The plant would initially have from 12 to 15 employees, with employment not exceeding 30 to 35 people. No project cost was available.

Peterson said the parcel is presently designated as industrial reserve, meaning it could be developed for industrial uses after other industrially zoned areas are developed first. He said the zoning at the proposed site conforms to the city's land use map.

Peterson said the city has not dealt with a site plan yet. The property has been for sale for a number of years.

Some Planning Commission members wondered about possible conflict with traffic headed to and from Willmar Senior High School, located north of the proposed site.

Commissioner Michael Morris said "putting factories out there'' would further inhibit residential growth and he didn't want to drive through an industrial corridor to get to the high school.

Morris asked if cities plat streets and grid system first before development takes place. Peterson said cities can define major corridors but not small streets.

Commissioner Jay Lawton said the site has advantages for business.

Commissioner Wayne Stoneberg said he did not see the area as residential. He said bio-fuel is the wave of the future, and he was sure the building would not resemble an ethanol plant with grain bins and smoke stacks.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
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