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Council OKs closure of city block pending appraisal

Over 100 attend meeting on future of 800 block of Eighth Avenue North

October 27, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

The Estherville City Council held its regular meeting at Iowa Lakes Community College's auditorium to handle the estimated 100 people who attended the meeting. The large turnout, which Mayor Kenny Billings joked was more people than usually vote in Estherville, was due to the public hearing on the vacation of Eighth Avenue at North Eighth Street requested by Avera Holy Family Hospital for a parking lot to go with the new addition to the emergency room.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of keeping the street open, stating their use of the street constituted a public benefit, which would make the vacation unlawful.

Steve Woodley, who has been vocal in his bid to keep the street open, said the hospital had presented a plan for a new parking lot in 2013. That plan included a crosswalk.

"What's changed in four years?" Woodley asked.

Avera Holy Family CEO Dale Hustedt said that parking lot was meant for employees.

"It wasn't planned for emergency room and same-day surgery patients, or for loved ones' parking. That was a completely different lot with a completely different purpose," Hustedt said.

Tim Schumacher, resident on Seventh Avenue and Emmet County Supervisor, suggested the council enact a trial closing of Eighth Avenue.

"See how far the traffic flows, and what collateral things may happen," Schumacher said.

Tracy Hilton said a crosswalk would be a very good decision.

"I'd be more than happy to stop if someone needed to cross," Hilton said.

John Skrepak, city council candidate for Ward 4, said he has had several phone calls with the state ombudsman and raised the question of whether the street has a public benefit.

City attorney Jennifer Bennett Finn said, "I stand by my legal opinion. There is no case or administrative law that interprets this. If the council decides to vacate, then the closure is determined to be in the public benefit."

On the side of supporting the closure, several people connected to the hospital and the emergency room capital campaign spoke of the value the hospital brings to the community.

Keith Duitsman, who said he has lived on North 10th Street overlooking the emergency room for 40 years, said in passing the area four times per day for 40 years, he's seen it approximately 58,000 times.

"I see distraught people run in, and older people struggle just to get in. People slide down the hill sideways, and no crosswalk will prevent that. They could slide backward and hit other cars," Duitsman said.

Duitsman said he has avoided the street for the last few weeks and his life hasn't changed at all.

"Safety over convenience is a huge thing you have to consider," Duitsman said.

Dr. Jim Creech said he has been a doctor at Avera Holy Family for 27 years.

"My concern is that we do the best we can for the patients," Dr. Creech said.

George Shadle, co-chair of the hospital's $1 million capital campaign, said, "We should embrace change and make the best of it. Think about it and do what's best for the hospital."

Jan Grieg, another co-chair of the capital campaign, said, "You can get anyplace in Estherville in about five minutes. One way to support the hospital is maybe change your route. The hospital is spending $3 million in our community. You could show your appreciation and maybe make a few sacrifices."

The city council passed the measure, 6-0, with Gene Haukoos abstaining due to his connection with the hospital.

City administrator Penny Clayton said the next step is to hire a commercial appraiser to determine the fair market value of the street. Once the value is determined, another public hearing must be held and further steps taken in the process.

The council also approved an annexation for the purpose of water service outside city limits to 1801 Highway 4, voted to take $1,000 off the emergency sewer repair invoices for each of six businesses in the 600 block of Central Avenue, approved the sale of Carrico Heights, lot six to Curt and Kris Weisman, and awarded a $1.766 million contract to Wapasha Construction Company of Winona, Minn., for the Wastewater Facilities Improvement Project.



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