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Willmar City Council OKs land transfer to Jennie-O

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council on a voice vote Monday night approved the transfer of two parcels of land totaling approximately eight acres to Jennie-O Turkey Store for the company’s proposed corporate headquarters expansion project.

Both parcels have a combined value of $238,072. The price will be written down to $0 by applying the city’s land write-down policy, according to city officials.

The parcels are located between the south end of the Public Works maintenance property, which was severed by the realigned Willmar Avenue Southwest, and County Road 5.

In addition, the council approved a 10-year option or first right of refusal for 30 acres in the industrial park for a possible future phase II plant expansion.

The first right of refusal would provide a level of assurance to Jennie-O that the land will be available for their future needs, according to officials.

The land transfer and the first right of refusal were both recommended by the council’s Community Development Committee and reported by committee Chair Rick Fagerlie.

The committee recommended and the council directed city staff and legal counsel to prepare the necessary purchase agreement and also to prepare the first right of refusal agreement.

Before the council discussed the committee’s recommendation, Mayor Pro Tempore Denis Anderson asked if he as a former employee of Hormel (Jennie-O’s parent company) has a conflict of interest in voting on the agreements. Anderson also said he owns a small amount of Hormel stock.

City Attorney Robert Scott said he has looked at this question before and said Anderson does not have a legal disqualifying conflict of interest under the city’s conflict of interest policy. The policy was drafted to be consistent with state law and approved last year by the council.

“I want to be open and honest about that,’’ said Anderson, who was presiding in the absence of Mayor Frank Yanish.

Council member Ron Christianson asked if he as a contractor has a conflict of interest in building homes for any Jennie-O employees.

Scott said he did not see how Christianson would have a conflict of interest.

Fagerlie said the land sale must be considered first by the Planning Commission.

Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson agreed, explaining the city charter requires the Planning Commission to review any proposal for the council to acquire or dispose of property. He said the commission looked at the issue last week and recommended the land transfer as proposed.

Council member Steve Ahmann said he appreciated that Anderson came clean on the issue of his participation with Jennie-O. Ahmann said he has never owned and does not now own any Hormel stock, and he said now was the time for other council members to make a statement.

No one spoke, however.

Ahmann also said he thought the council should have held a public hearing on the land transfer. He said questions have not been answered. Even though a hearing was not required, he thought it would be a great idea to get comments from citizens, and he appreciated the opinion of other council members.

Anderson asked if there were any thoughts, but no one spoke.

“I guess by that we feel OK with where we are,’’ he said.

Anderson added that the public weighed in when voters approved the local option sales tax in 2004 to help redevelop the old airport land into an industrial park.

“They wanted us to fill it up. I think the public has spoken and they’ve said we’ve got the land. We’ve got the land released (from the Federal Aviation Administration). Now it’s time to move forward and fill it up,’’ he said.

The hour-long meeting was attended by nearly two dozen people, including Linda Kacher who said during the open forum that the council should hold a public hearing on the land transfer.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said a hearing is not required.

However, she said the council did hold a public hearing when it vacated city-owned right-of-way along a portion of Industrial Drive Southwest.

The vacated land is being transferred to Jennie-O for the office expansion.

Kacher also asked, among other things, if council members are clear that no public hearing is required. Kacher said she does not oppose Jennie-O’s project. But she thought answering the questions might pave the way for moving forward in a more comfortable fashion.

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