City council to take bids on property

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By Shelia Tomkins

At the monthly meeting on Sept. 13, the Guttenberg city council decided to  take bids on property at the corner of Highway 52 and Schiller Street, known as the Bender property, the former site of a gas station.

The council voted to buy the property last November in connection with the Schiller Street property, deciding at the time to purchase it rather than pursue the easement needed for the Schiller Street project. 

In introducing Monday night's agenda item, Mayor Frommelt read a prepared statement urging the council to use the property for a Welcome Center as a means of drawing more highway traffic to the community. "There are a significant number of tourists who never stop. These are the ones we need,"said the mayor. "The welcome center on the highway would be a visual magnet."  He said work to remodel the existing building could be done in stages, and he asked the council to approve seeking grants for the project.  

Lengthy discussion followed with comments from audience members both in favor and against the idea. Councilmember Fred Schaub said the city needs to look at its current debt. "If we put it up for sale we get it back on the tax roll," he said. Councilmember Jane Parker spoke of concerns about upkeep expenses. 

Councilmember Mick Pierce made a motion to seek grants for the project, but the motion failed on a 3-2 vote with  Pierce and and Virginia voting in favor of the motion, and Schaub, Austin Greve and Parker voting against it.  

Realtor Nathan Trappe then told the council he was interested in purchasing the property to build an office, and said he would be open to the idea of including room for a welcome center satellite office in it. After discussion, the council voted to take bids for the property. The vote was with Pierce voting nay.

Project updates

Steve Thompson, an engineer with Veenstra & Kim, presented updates on several city projects. He said the trail study has been completed and said that the council will receive bound copies. He said that there has been an additional delay in lighting for the Schiller Street project and it is now expected to be installed in late October or early November. Discussion was held on dredging bids for the Limbeck Pond project and if it would be more cost effective for the city to purchase a dredge rather than hire a contractor, and if grant money would cover the cost of a dredge. Thompson said surveyors have been working in town in preparation for  water system improvements. The council voted to proceed with engineering work on North Fifth Street and on a drainage problem near the school. 

Food truck fees

The council considered a proposal to reduce fees for mobile vendors, aka food trucks. After discussion, the vote was in favor of cutting the fees, with councilmember Parker abstaining. The new fee schedule is $25 for one day; $350 for six months and $500 for a year. Pushcart fees will remain the same. The council will re-evaluate the fees next fall.

Historic Preservation

Lee Johnston of the Historic Preservation Commission sought direction from the council on whether to consider changes to demolition permits in order to set some level of control for historic buildings. She also discussed offering counseling to property owners, and the issue of "demolition by neglect" when property owners let a building deteriorate beyond the point of repair. After listening to council feedback, she will return to the October meeting with a proposal.

Other business

The council approved a cell tower lease with Northeast Iowa Telephone  as discussed at the August meeting.   

The council approved a grant application for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for water and sewer system improvements.  

A zoning request from Steve Miller was approved for property along south Highway 52, changing it from single family residential to highway commercial. 

Katie Greve was appointed to the city rec board.

The council voted to move forward with a request from Bob and Megan Liebe to purchase a small parcel of property west of Nordic Forge. 

The council accepted an offer of $20,000 from Rick and Phoebe Johnson for a city lot on south Second Street known as the Palmer property. 

Ordinance changes were approved to comply with changes in state code on public disorder, electric bicycles, abandoned vehicles, alcoholic beverages, failure to assist and interference with official acts.

The mayor gave the oath of office to newly-hired Officer Mitchell Jipson, who fills the vacancy created by the promotion of Derek Chambers to the chief's position.

Police Chief Chambers received council approval to have his contract changed from working a minimum of 45 hours per week to working a minimum of 90 hours in a two-week pay period.

Brandie Tomkins, Chamber of Commerce director, received council permission to extend the street closure area for the Volkswagen car show at GermanFest.

Tim Schmitt spoke to the council about city concerns regarding his property on Acre Street.

The council instructed the city manager to take action on a nuisance property on South Second Street. 

Discussion was held on city office response to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Residents will be encouraged to use the outdoor drop box, to use masks and to practice social distancing, and employees will be encouraged to receive vaccinations.

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