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Willmar committee backs next step in Becker Avenue commons concept

WILLMAR -- A City Council committee is supporting a Willmar Design Center request to seek qualifications of landscape architects for a schematic design of a possible downtown commons.

The Public Works/Safety Committee voted this week to ask the council at the upcoming Monday night meeting to consider obtaining statements of qualifications from firms.

The proposal arises from an extensive visioning process for creating a new public commons in downtown Willmar, according to a draft request for qualifications. Development of a downtown commons has been a goal of the Design Center since the center was established in 2005.

Adam Arvidson, Design Center urban planner, said the original idea was to look at the block behind Bethel Lutheran Church. The idea shifted to Becker Avenue where activities such as summer music and market events are being held.

"We began to see that street as being Willmar's downtown commons itself from First to Sixth, as what could that be, that could accommodate automobiles and emergency vehicles, bicycles, the market, be easily opened and closed and provide pathways for the appropriate movement of vehicles through there even when the market is going on,'' said Arvidson.

He said a public design workshop generated some ideas one year ago. Arvidson said he and city staff refined those ideas and came up with concept for the six-block development. The idea was presented to the council last fall. The council urged the Design Center to proceed to the next step of hiring a consultant and obtaining cost estimates.

The goal is to develop a high-quality urban space while preserving functionality, "and that is beyond my talents,'' said Arvidson. "Also, it's good for the city and Design Center to remain objective and push that consultant to get the design that works best for Willmar.''

Arvidson said the Design Center will raise funds to pay for whichever consultant is selected. No city funds will be used, he said. Council approval will be sought for the consultant's contract.

The new Becker Avenue would easily host the weekly Becker Market and annual festivals as well as vehicular and bicycle transportation, parking, storm water management, plazas, open space and utilities.

In other business, the committee voted to hire Summit Envirosolutions of St. Paul to conduct an archaeological survey of the route for a proposed walking path on MinnWest Technology Campus property along Business 71 North. The $3,785 cost will be paid with revenue raised by the local option sales tax.

The survey is required by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office because the technology campus -- the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center -- is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Mel Odens, public works director.

The survey would look for archaeological sites, but Odens said the route was disturbed years ago when city water and sewer lines were installed before the campus was listed on the historic register. Nevertheless, Odens recommended the contract, saying Summit has worked for the city in the past.

Committee member Ron Christianson called the survey a waste of money.

The committee also:

- Voted to support a resolution stating the council agrees to adopt a policy prohibiting the use of excessive force by the police department against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations, and to enforce state and local laws against physically barring entrance to or exit from a facility or location which is the subject of such civil rights demonstration. City Administrator Michael Schmit said the resolution was required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development before the city will receive grants through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

- Voted to let Voss Plumbing of Paynesville use directional drilling rather than open excavation to construct approximately 1,700 feet of forcemain sewer line in connection with the wastewater treatment project. Voss proposed directional drilling to minimize the effect of construction on residents in the southwest part of town along 16th Street, Minnesota Avenue and 18th Street. There will be no change in the cost of the work, said Rhonda Rae, program manager for Donohue and Associates, the wastewater project consultant.

- Approved the final payment of $85,053 to Kandiyohi County for city improvements on 0.18 mile of the former County Road 47 -- now called County Road 5 -- from south of state Highway 40 to U.S. Highway 12.

- Approved a permit for Luther Septon to raise 30 chickens at his home in the 200 block of 15th Street Southwest.