Business leaders oppose access road

Owners and managers of businesses in Princeton’s industrial park oppose an extension of 21st Avenue that would connect the Rivertown Crossing retail area with 19th Avenue in the industrial park and Rum River Drive.

That was the word business leaders gave the Princeton City Council on Thursday, Sept. 5 after filling the council chambers for a face-to-face discussion on the future of traffic through the industrial park.

But minutes after the business leaders cleared the room and headed for the parking lot, believing that a discussion on an access road was finished, council members once again discussed the matter and suggested they might move forward with a 21st Avenue extension despite opposition from the industrial park.

Councilmember Thom Walker said he was inclined to sympathize with everyone in the industrial park. But in a council chambers left nearly empty after the departure of the business leaders, City Administrator Mark Karnowski opened a discussion about introducing a resolution at a future council meeting listing both the positives and negatives of a 21st Avenue extension. In what appeared to be support for the extension, they discussed putting on record that the council and city staff has spent “hours and hours and hours” studying the road extension.

Mayor Paul Whitcomb also admittedly put Community Development Director Carie Furhman on the spot, seeking input on the effects a decision to move forward on an extension project might have on future business development.

Furhman told council members that if industrial park businesses are ignored and an extension constructed, business leaders could express to companies interested in expanding to Princeton that the City Council is not business-friendly.

During the nearly 45-minute meeting between the council and business leaders, Crystal Cabinets owner and president Jeff Hammer encouraged the city to abandon plans for the 21st Avenue extension and instead concentrate efforts on a bigger, long-range plan for development on the west side of the city.

“No one in the industrial park wants it,” Hammer said of the city’s 21st Avenue extension plan. “We can get in and out just fine without a change.

“I suggest we do nothing. Princeton deserves a bigger plan,” Hammer said.

City Engineer Mike Nielson said a 21st Avenue extension would be just a piece of future development on Princeton’s west side.

“This is not the end-all plan,” Nielson said.

Nielson said there would be future phases funded by future development.

“We’re trying to bite off smaller pieces,” Nielson said.

That led Hammer to again say that the city should put any extension on hold until a complete plan is ready.

Jeffrey Watkins, president of Inline Packaging, said safety becomes a larger issue in the industrial park if a 21st Avenue extension is built.

“It’s a bad idea to run residential traffic through an industrial park,” Watkins said. “It’s a safety concern — no question.”

Allowing residential drivers to mix with the truck tractor and trailers of industrial park traffic will result in more accidents, Watkins suggested.

“We’ll be waiting for a date with destiny,” he said.

“Do the right thing, not the cheap thing,” Watkins urged.

Nielson said he doesn’t think residential traffic through the industrial park will be a problem because drivers will soon find alternative routes once they discover that driving through the industrial park and then up 21st Avenue isn’t the quickest or the easiest route to the Walmart area. City staff said taking Highway 169 to Highway 95 is the fastest route to Walmart from Princeton’s south side.

But Watkins begged to differ.

“Once you uncork it, there’s no going back,” Watkins said.

Dean Powell, owner of Anoco Metal Services, said traffic is already a problem without adding vehicles driving through the industrial park.

Powell, whose business is located at 1105 19th Ave. S., said his business is likely to be the most impacted by a 21st Avenue extension because it will connect with 19th Avenue near his business. He said he already has to negotiate his way to work through the industrial park because of heavy truck traffic.

Powell said people will use the extension as an access to Walmart and the retail area whether it’s the city’s intention or not.

“Let us do our business and find a better way,” Powell said, echoing the sentiments of Hammer and Watkins.

Duane Kruse, owner of Kruse Aviation, told the council, “Let’s really think about this.”

Joe Glenn, president of Glenn MetalCraft and Minnesota Industrial Coatings, said he supports a second access on the city’s west side, but not through the industrial park.

Glenn said, with increased traffic, he fears that his businesses might lose the ability to have trucks back into their loading docks — something that is very important to his businesses. Glenn said his businesses have made large investments in the industrial park that will substantially increase truck traffic in the future.

Guy Miller with BioMatrix International said his company has installed new equipment, as well, that will triple the 55 trucks per month already service the business.

Truck traffic isn’t the only concern in the industrial park.

Todd Geisness, executive vice president at United States Distilled Products, noted that USDP has a number of buildings in the industrial park, some on opposite sides of the street.

Geisness expressed concerns for the safety of USDP employees if through traffic is allowed through an access road.

“We have people going across the street all day long,” Geisness said.

Hammer noted that city officials are often asking how the city can help businesses in the industrial park.

“How can you help? By listening to the number of people saying they don’t want this. That’s how you can help,” Hammer said.

“We’d appreciate it if you’d help the business guys out,” he added.