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Citizens speak out on road closure

A group of Luverne citizens and business owners expressed their concerns Monday night at a public hearing held at Luverne City Hall.

The meeting was held to allow citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions of a petition filed by Hick's, Inc. Chairman John M. Wise Sr. to vacate a portion of Woodford Ave. for future expansion of the wholesale distributor of hunting and fishing supplies.

"We petitioned the city," Wise Sr. said during his five-minute opening statement. "I haven't gone out and talked to a lot of people, but I did call the police department to make sure it wasn't going to affect them in any way. We've also talked to people up at the nursing home and they said it doesn't affect them in any way. I just think there is a real need for us to be able to close this street."

Wise Sr. has petitioned to close a 385-foot portion of Woodford beginning from the northern end of the company's two-story building and continuing south to the city's power substation. He said if the petition is accepted, he plans to beautify the portion of the road that is closed.

"We're going to put a nice fence up and fix it with a nice gate," he said. "We're going to do the same thing at the bottom of the street and have a gate there as well. That doesn't mean that other people can't traverse during the working hours, if you wanted to I think you still could. The problem is we have large trucks come in and there's going to be more of them as time goes on. When they back up to our place, they just about cover the street and some of them do. So it makes it difficult for people to have turn around and go back and make other travel arrangements, which we appreciate."

Former Luverne business partner and longtime Luverne resident James Morgan opposes the petition because he believes it would take away from the town's preserved history.

"To my knowledge, no avenue or street has been vacated since I moved here as a boy in 1945," Morgan said. "As a present member of the historical society in this county, I think it's important to keep the city's plat intact, as Hawkins, Forest, LeGrande and Woodford avenues where and still are the main arteries of this city. I came here tonight to ask this governing body to deny the request to vacate the section of Woodford Ave. in question. This governing body should remember that once a decision is made to vacate the avenue, there will be no undoing it."

Sibyl Holman Dorsey agrees with Morgan. She said the portion of Woodford Hick's, Inc. is requesting to vacate is noted as being "the last street in the original plat of Luverne, dating back to the 1800's."

"I can remember when people traveled Woodford and LeGrande Street to run down to see the train turntable, where the train was manually turned around so that it could make its roundtrip back to Montgomery," Dorsey said. "This is a public street owned by the people of Luverne - to be used by the people of the city and anyone else wishing to travel it."

Hicks, Inc. recently purchased the property and house across the street from Hick's, Inc. for one of the businesses executives to reside. That recent purchase gives Hick's, Inc. access to both sides of the road with the exception of the road. Wise Sr. believes traffic problems will soon become an issue with the influx of new residents as a result of the new Hyundai suppliers.

"As ya'll well know, we're going to have a much bigger bottleneck than we've ever had with the addition of SMART," he said. "During the summertime, traffic is backed up all the way past the nursing home on 331, you can't even get out of that street. People have to back up into our place and turn around and find another way to get out when they're using Woodford. I've seen that on numerous occasions."

With the possibility of traffic problems in the near future, Julie Flowers, who lives a block down on Grove Avenue, fears for the safety of her grandchildren. She believes the road closer would possibly send the traffic down her road.

"I walk in that neighbored daily and I have observed the amount of traffic that does go down Woodford," Flowers said. "If it is closed to the public, it's going to throw the traffic over onto Grove Avenue. A lot of the people that work at the nursing home leave and go down Woodford. I appreciate the industry and I'm very pleased and proud of Mr. John and what he's done, but my grandchildren are my concerns. If the street is closed and all the traffic is thrown over on us, it's not going to be safe for these children to play."

Flowers said she favors a plan to have the street closed when trucks are delivering, but not for the vacation of the road. She believes there are other options Hick's, Inc. could pursue.

Joe Parham, owner of J & N Auto, and his brother, Johnnie, also believe there are alternatives options besides vacating the road.

"I would rather see it closed at a certain time of the day and open it up later," Johnnie said.

Joe said he uses the road to travel to various auto parts stores throughout the area.

John M. Wise Jr., President and CEO of Hick's, Inc., believes city officials need to practice what they preach.

"We've talked in several different city-type settings, organizational meetings and industrial board meetings about the importance of taking care of the industry that's already here, but you'd be hard pushed to name on one hand the things that have been done for the existing businesses in this town," he said. "It's not how long you've been here, how steady you've been, that you don't layoff workers and that provide gainful employment. Its all about are you new and are you going to bring some new jobs? The question doesn't even go any further than asking how long are you going to be here or what are your plans 10 years down the road? We have been here since 1902 and we don't add to the unemployment in this town."

Luverne Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief William Nail also expressed his safety concerns for access to the building if the roadway is closed. He believes accessibility to the large facility would be difficult if an emergency occurred.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Joe Rex Sport informed the concerned citizens of how the council would act on the issue.

"I'm sure your input will be weighed, we'll probably do a little further investigating on the part of the council and then we'll take a vote on it at a future meeting," Sport said.

Sport believes it could be difficult to vote on the issue at a December council meeting because of the holidays.

"We'll expedited it as quick as we can and take action on this proposal," Sport concluded.