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City hears request for Third Street closure

WILLMAR -- The city is being asked by Bethesda Heritage Center and Calvary Lutheran Church to consider the possibility of vacating the one-block portion of Third Street Southeast between the nursing home and the church.

Bethesda and Calvary have no immediate plans, but are possibly looking at future parking or a campus connection, according to Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services. Peterson discussed the proposal with the Planning Commission Wednesday night and with the City Council's Community Development Committee Thursday evening.

He said the nursing home and church have made no formal request or petitioned the city to vacate the street.

"If there was a positive response from the City Council and the Planning Commission, I would go back to the owners and say it appears there's a chance it might work,'' said Peterson.

Filing a petition would trigger legal proceedings that could lead to closing the street. The petition would be reviewed by the Planning Commission, which would make a recommendation to the council, said Peterson.

The council receives the information, schedules a public hearing, takes testimony and decides whether or not vacating the street is in the best interest of the public and the city, he explained.

Peterson sought comments about the feasibility of vacating the street from the municipal utilities, the fire department, police department, engineering department and Willmar School District.

Peterson said the city would want to retain an easement to allow maintenance of electric, water, sewer, telephone and cable utilities. No issues were raised by the other city departments that would prevent the street from being vacated.

However, school district Superintendent Kathy Leedom said closing Third Street would raise safety issues for students who receive bus transportation to the nearby Junior High School.

The issue was further explained by Ken Inselman, owner of Willmar Bus Service, one of two bus companies serving the district.

Inselman said the school's rear parking lot was reserved for bus parking to reduce the traffic conflict with parents delivering or picking up children at the school's front door.

He said buses turn off Olena and onto Third Street. He said Third Street lines up directly with the parking lot entrance and allows buses to park diagonally, which lets students exit the buses without walking in front of the buses.

Inselman said buses could use other streets, "but it would be more difficult.''

"I do not think we can just blindly do this and leave the buses to fend for themselves,'' said committee member Denis Anderson. "If we're going to do it, we've got to somehow make sure they can get the job done in a safe way.''

Committee member Ron Christianson suggested only one-way traffic be allowed on Third Street, and the nursing home and church use the street for parking. "I know Bethesda and the church need more parking,'' he said.

Inselman said he'd have to give the one-way idea more thought.

The committee took no action, and the issue will be discussed again by the Planning Commission, according to Peterson.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150