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Developer gets free utilities in return for improvements

MORRISON – A businessman who is developing downtown buildings will get free water and sewer services for 10 years in return for improving a part of the sidewalk on Market Street.

This week, a City Council majority approved two ordinances that made possible the deal with Bob Vaughn of Morrison, who has been developing his buildings in the 200 block of West Main Street.

As part of the deal, the city gave up its ownership of the sidewalk on Market Street, which, officials said, was in great disrepair.

Vaughn's plan includes a sidewalk ramp that will permit access to his buildings from Market Street, which runs behind Main Street buildings. On the Main Street side, handicapped access isn't possible, officials said.

According to one of the ordinances, the sidewalk in question has been "obstructed for a considerable period of time" and "no longer has significant public use for pedestrian travel or other purposes."

The sketches of the planned improvements indicate the result will be "absolutely gorgeous," Mayor Everett Pannier said in an interview afterward.

Under the agreement, the city will give free water and sewer services for up to 11,000 gallons for the downstairs business area and up to 5,000 gallons for the upstairs apartments. Usage over those amounts will be billed.

The city also agreed to give free garbage and recycling service to the upstairs apartments at 203 and 205 W. Main St. for 10 years.

During the council's meeting, Alderman Leo Sullivan wondered whether the city was setting itself up to enter such deals for businesses up and down Main Street. At the same time, he praised Vaughn for his renovation of the buildings.

Vaughn, a vocal supporter of developing the city's historic buildings, said the city must "incentivize" restoration projects.

As for his project, he said, the sales tax revenue to the city should more than offset the loss in water and sewer revenue.

Alderman Michael Blean said the city is responsible for sidewalks being accessble under the Americans With Disabilities Act. People have "no clue" how much it costs to maintain downtown buildings, he said.

Alderman Harvey Zuidema, however, said maintenance of downtown buildings wasn't the taxpayers' obligation.

Zuidema and Alderwoman Marti Wood voted against the two ordinances making the deal possible, while Sullivan opposed one of them. Alderman Curt Bender abstained both times.

Pannier said later that Morrison wasn't setting a precedent with the agreement.

"A special case was laid out," he said. "The majority vote said this was a good way to complete the project. Make it beautiful and [Vaughn's] responsibility. We don't have to put out a cash outlay right now."

In his buildings, Vaughn already has leased space to a beauty salon. He and his wife, Debby, plan to partially open their long-planned Donnybrook Bakery Cafe this fall.

He praised the council for approving the agreement.

"People poke fun at Market Street. It's an eyesore," he said. "We're trying by bits and pieces to change that dynamic."

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