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Council again denies SMOC permit request

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington City Council voted down the reconsideration of the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) petition for a zoning permit for the construction of a childcare facility during a special meeting Wednesday.

WORTHINGTON - The Worthington City Council voted down the reconsideration of the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) petition for a zoning permit for the construction of a childcare facility during a special meeting Wednesday.

 

The council was requested to reconsider its previous decision, made May 8, which denied the conditional use permit to SMOC to build the facility near the Fareway supermarket on Stower Drive. SMOC was granted federal money to construct a facility that will house a tuition-free child development program for 3- and 4-year-olds through Head Start.

 

Mayor Mike Kuhle said the main issue is the timeline SMOC has to meet, as SMOC has to have the project completed by March 31, 2018. City Administrator Steve Robinson also said it would be challenging to finish the entire project even if the council granted SMOC the zoning permit.

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“Even if we would move forward with the project today, that March 31 date would be problematic,” Robinson said.

 

Council member Alan Oberloh said he had communicated with government staff who told him they would give SMOC flexibility with the timeline. However, SMOC Executive Director Neal Steffl said he has received unclear answers whether or not there may be an extension available on the project. Steffl said he is waiting for a final answer from U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s office.

 

Acting on an earlier council request, Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Darlene Macklin surveyed businesses in the area on the matter. Macklin collected forms from more than 50 business, with a majority of 32 supporting the location for the new SMOC building.

 

The motion was voted down 3-2, with councilmen Chad Cummings, Oberloh and Larry Janssen voting against the reconsideration. Although it was voted against, the matter could return to council for further discussion.

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In another matter, the council approved use of the clubhouse building at the former Prairie View Golf Links by Worthington Boy Scouts. The scouts, who are currently headquartered at a Chautauqua Park cabin, have agreed to cover the cost of building improvements and maintenance of the Prairie View building, though Scoutmaster Scott Hunt stressed Thursday to The Globe that a move by the scouts to Prairie View is not yet a done deal.

 

A total of $31,000 has been raised for renovations to the Chautauqua Park cabin, it was announced during Wednesday’s council meeting. Local scout officials now want to see if people who donated the money toward the cabin renovations are willing to lend that financial support to the Prairie View idea.

 

The city was asked to pay additional costs such as electricity; all council members expressed support for the idea.

 

“I just imagine buses of kids coming from 60 miles around to come and use this facility,” Oberloh said, noting there isn’t a similar site in the area.

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Cummings said it could be the perfect opportunity to bring people to town, with a possibility of creating educational tours that visit the site and generating revenue.

 

“I think if you take a look on what earth science clubs, colleges and schools do … whether they are going to the Butterfly House in Sioux Falls or other places … there is some sort of fee they pay, too,” Cummings said.

 

In other business:

 

  • The council approved salary changes and guideline revisions for the director of community development as well as planning, zoning and building services positions.
  • A special committee was created to identify places where the half-cent sales tax extension money can be allocated. Oberloh and Amy Ernst will be meeting weekly to discuss possible city amenities that need improvement.

 

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