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Council sets hearing for request by Jennie-O to vacate road

WILLMAR — Willmar City Council will hold a public hearing Feb. 3 to consider a request from Jennie-O Turkey Store to vacate a portion of Industrial Drive Southwest (formerly State Highway 40) for a proposed multimillion-dollar expansion project.

The council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution recommended by the Community Development Committee to set the hearing date.

Before the vote was taken, Mayor Pro Tempore Denis Anderson, presiding in place of the vacationing Mayor Frank Yanish, asked if he as a retired Jennie-O employee had any conflict of interest in voting on the matter.

City Attorney Robert Scott said the only way Anderson would have a conflict is if he received any financial benefit.

Officials have said Jennie-O is looking to expand its corporate offices as soon as this summer and is looking at the possibility of expanding the turkey production plant northward across Industrial Drive into a 27-acre tract in the new industrial park.

Bruce Peterson, city planning and development director, told council members the amount of land within the roadway area that Jennie-O was requesting that the city vacate totaled about 5½ acres.

Jennie-O is requesting the portion of Industrial Drive be vacated between Willmar Avenue Southwest and the Hoting property, which is located at the intersection with County Road 5. The road vacation was requested because the company’s expansion plans conflict with Industrial Drive right-of-way.

Highway 40 within the city limits was turned back to the city a number of years ago. Discussion of Jennie-O’s expansion dates back to late 2007. Peterson had recommended the council proceed with vacating the roadway.

Voting in favor of the resolution setting the hearing date were Anderson, Audrey Nelsen, Ron Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Bruce DeBlieck, Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken and Rick Fagerlie.

After the vote had been taken but toward the end of the meeting, Ahmann praised the proposed expansion project but said council members should first have received more information about the project and its possible financial implications to the city.

In other business, the council approved a Labor Relations Committee recommendation to hire Sean Christensen of Cody, Wyo., to fill Willmar’s vacant public works director/city engineer position.  Christensen’s start date will be March 13.

The city has been without a public works director/city engineer since Sept. 14, 2012.

Christensen was one of five candidates interviewed for the job by a five-member panel that included City Administrator Charlene Stevens who recommended Christensen to the Labor Committee.

Christensen has served as city engineer for the city of Powell, Wyo., since December 2000. He also has 4½ years of engineering experience working for private firms in Cody and in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Christensen will receive a salary of $91,924, plus benefits, and a $5,000 relocation allowance.

In other business, the council approved Labor Committee recommendations to fill the vacant full-time position of public works clerk-secretary and to fill the vacant 30-hour-per-week position of fire department clerk-typist.

Among other agenda items, the council voted to set a public hearing Feb. 3 to consider a zoning ordinance text amendment that would state in which zoning districts brewer taprooms would be permitted with a conditional use permit.

The Planning Commission initiated the text amendment to the zoning ordinance to include brewer taprooms as permitted uses in the central business district and in the general business district with a conditional use permit.

The Planning Commission proposed the text amendment after the council last year adopted a new section in the municipal code that allows brewer taprooms.

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