Preston's city council considers an ordinance dating back to the 1970s that requires a green belt to be installed around the local mobile home parks. The council held its discussion during its regular meeting on Monday evening.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Preston's city council considers an ordinance dating back to the 1970s that requires a green belt to be installed around the local mobile home parks. The council held its discussion during its regular meeting on Monday evening. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
To tree or not to tree, that was the question during the Monday evening, Nov. 4, Preston City Council meeting, as the council examined whether it was the city's responsibility to decide what should be planted to establish a "green belt" around the Brownsville Mobile Home Park. Owner Tim Johnston had planted some lilacs to screen the interior of the park from the surrounding neighborhood, but the council has questioned whether those are significant enough to create the needed barrier.

The matter came to light in reference to a city ordinance, number 152.04(A), which states "There shall be a green belt, 15 feet in width, of plantings around the periphery of the manufactured home park that adjoins any residential zones, to effectively screen the interior of the manufactured home park."

Preston City Administrator Joe Hoffman pointed out that Johnston's presence had been requested at the meeting, but that he had related he was unable to attend since he would be out of town until Nov. 20.

"Mr. Johnston wrote, 'If the plantings are not adequate, then what is the council looking for? Please keep me informed of what they decide.' Do we need clarification from the council for this issue?" Hoffman asked.

He added that the council needed to address the question of whether the green belt should be required along the side of the mobile home park that abuts the street? If so, that leads to other questions - what should the green belt consist of? Trees, shrubs or fencing and what size and quantity? And what is a reasonable timeline to establish or grow the green belt?

Councilor Robert Maust inquired whether the city has money left in its tree fund to plant trees on the Johnston curb and council member David Collett answered, "No, we spent it all. There won't be any more until January 1."

Maust posited that "three nice evergreens would fill up the space." However, Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks pointed out that planting shrubs or trees that are too tall or wide could pose a safety hazard for drivers attempting to back out of their driveways near the park. The issue would remain the same whether it was on the owner's dollar or the city's. Plus, he felt that planting on the city's dollar was not an option.

"And if we plant trees there, the next thing we know, there'll be someone else who wants trees planted because they want to cover up something. Is that the city's responsibility?" Reicks also asked.

Resident Kerry Soiney was in the audience and related that he had offered to purchase trees for Johnston's property approximately three years ago, but that he hadn't gotten a reply from Johnston.

Other neighbors had proposed putting a fence up to act as a screen, but Reicks said, "the definition of a green belt is not a fence."

Soiney stated, "You don't see this much in small towns, but sometimes in cities, they build a berm and plant trees to block the view of buildings...or a dozen arbor vitae would cost less than $1,000."

Hoffman asked if the staff could bring any more information to help make the decision as to what should be done, but the council determined that hiring a landscaper to deal with the problem at hand would be setting a precedent and that while the ordinance states that there must be a green screen around the park, the matter is "not a city problem."

The consensus the council arrived at was that Soiney and his neighbors should send a letter to Johnston offering to help pay for the trees they'd like to have planted and a copy of that letter should be sent to the council so that the city has one.

Council member Dave Collett made a motion to table the issue until the Dec. 3 meeting because "we can't dig any holes until April anyway."

Land purchase

The council moved forward on its agenda to consider whether the city should purchase Hazel Knies's home at 417 Main Street. The Knies family has offered it for sale due to it being located half in the floodway.

The repaired home is in better condition than most houses that the city has purchased using FEMA funding, which provides 75 percent of the amount necessary for such purchases. The city would be responsible for another 12 and a half percent, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would post the remaining 12 and a half percent.

A purchase agreement has been drawn up for the home, valued at $96,500, and analysis of asbestos and other hazards should be carried out before the house is demolished and the plot of land left as a green space on which "nothing more than a pavilion" might be built.

The city would maintain the space "in perpetuity."

Councilors inquired as to how much tax income would be lost if the purchase agreement is signed and Hoffman reported that the taxes paid on the house annually are $1,200, with $600 going to the city.

A vote was taken to purchase the land and it passed, 5-1 with Maust voting in opposition.

Cellular agreement

The council then approved a lease agreement with AT&T for the installation of cellular phone equipment on city property, incurring a ground lease for a 12' by 28' building for $500 a month for the next five years, with rights to renew the lease four more times for five years each.

The company had proposed a $300 a month lease, but Maust asked if the city could counteroffer with $500 per month for the current lease and all extensions thereof.

That counteroffer was accepted by the company on Tuesday.

Other business

In other matters, the council handled the following issues.

• The council voted to repair the city hall roof at an estimated cost of $2,750 as quoted by Schwickert's because the library staff has reported leaks. Further investigation of the roof's condition will be done during the process, but for now, with winter approaching, no action will be taken other than fixing the rubber membrane.

• Finally, the council closed the meeting to handle legal matters involving the Forestville bicycle trail eminent domain action.