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Third Street vacation approved for Calvary Lutheran plans in Willmar

Briana Sanchez / Tribune illustration Calvary Lutheran Church bought the old Bethesda Heritage building across the street at Third Street and Olena Avenue Southeast in Willmar. The church plans to raze the former nursing home to make way for additional parking initially, and a building committee will explore options for the rest of the space. This photo was created by taking a series of images.

WILLMAR — Third Street Southeast, between Olena Avenue and 11th Avenue will cease to exist July 1, as the Willmar City Council approved its vacation at last week's council meeting.

"The Planning Commission has looked at this request. They've considered it over several meetings" and approved it, said Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson.

Calvary Lutheran Church, which purchased the vacant Bethesda property across Third Street from the church, petitioned in late December for the vacation of that one-block stretch.

The Planning Commission first discussed the petition at its Jan. 11 meeting and tabled it, because commissioners wanted a preliminary plan and timeline for what Calvary Lutheran Church was planning on doing on the old Bethesda property and street.

Bill Fenske, who serves on the Calvary Church board, attended the Jan. 25 commission meeting. He explained the church is hoping to tear down the old Bethesda Heritage building and expand its own building westward, across what is now Third Street.

"We would be building across that," Fenske said.

The tentative timetable has Calvary breaking ground in spring 2018, Fenske said.

However, before any construction can take place, the utilities located under the vacated portion of Third Street will need to be removed.

"Relocation costs would be born completely by the church," said Megan DeSchepper, city planner.

There were also concerns over current traffic patterns on the street. Right now, school buses use that section of Third Street to enter the parking lot behind Willmar Middle School. It was decided the vacation would not take effect until July 1, to avoid having to change how people get in and out of that area in the middle of the current school year.

"We have no need to vacate it today," Fenske said.

Ken Inselmann, owner of Willmar Bus Company, spoke during the public hearing on the vacation during the Feb. 21 city council meeting. He said in regards to large vehicle traffic, like school buses, closing that portion of Third Street would be doable. He did request that parking along 11th Avenue, between Fourth and Second Street, be restricted to only the north side. This would leave enough space for buses to travel down the street to the school. No parking buffers of 50 feet on either side of the entrance to the school parking lot were also requested.

"We can work together and make it work out," Inselmann said.

The council agreed with the parking restrictions when it passed the resolution approving the vacation. The resolution also says the stop signs on Olena and 11th Avenue will stay in place along with the church having to relocate the utilities if the street is demolished and constructed over.

"This should be entirely workable," Peterson said at the city council meeting.

Fenske told the Planning Commission in January the church would be putting up barricades once the street is vacated, to block the public from still using the street as a thoroughfare.