Archive for May, 2005

Argus Leader Editorial: A chance for Laurent

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

McCook smartly tries to create framework in which sign language town can thrive

Published: 05/31/05

Anyone who thinks the McCook County Commission is rushing headlong in support of Laurent - a town proposed for people who use sign language - isn’t paying attention.

“It’s a pilot,” said commission Chairman Marc Dick. “we’ll see how good it works - if it works at all.”

Despite that obvious doubt, the commission is moving forward - slowly and deliberately - with a zoning ordinance that would allow the $100 million, 275-acre project at Highway 81 and Interstate 90.

Why? Because it represents economic development needed by the county.

“We need the people moving into the area,” said county zoning administrator John Knox.

But commissioners and zoning officials are being careful as they move forward, because they share some of the concerns expressed by residents:

# What about encroachment on agricultural land?

# What about paying for education of new students?

# What about financial stability?

# What about environmental effects?

# What about effects on existing businesses?

Unspoken - at least publicly - is the idea that this whole concept is just plain strange and will bring people to McCook County who are different from the majority of residents there now. They’ll be deaf or hard of hearing, and they’ll all be using sign language.

After all, this would be the first town of this type in the nation - designed and populated specifically for people who use sign language.

To its credit, the commission hasn’t sunk to that level of debate. Instead, it’s focused on real concerns about the effect on infrastructure and education, and encroachment.

County zoning regulations had no provision at all for such a development. The rules covered land use, not construction of entirely new towns.

County officials, then, had two choices when the idea was presented:

# Throw up their hands and say, “Zoning laws don’t allow it.”

# Figure out how to make it work while addressing the concerns.

They took the right approach. Instead of rolling out the roadblocks, commissioners and others started looking for ways to make this a successful development.

In the end, perhaps they’ll fail. After all, there will be a special election on this. Or maybe the project will fail on its own.

But county commissioners embarked on an unprecedented project, the development of a new town, a unique development. And they did so with a positive attitude.

It “may be an example for other areas in South Dakota to help growth,” Knox said.

That’s possible. More important, though, is the example the McCook County Commission is setting for all development. Look first to see if it can be made to work - instead of automatically rejecting it. If it can’t be done, it can’t. But at least the attempt has been made.

It’s a good model to follow.

Well, well… what do you know?

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

Yesterday, I went to Salem Farmers Market (a local grocery store), and guess what I found? Yup, Breyer’s All Natural Vanilla Ice Cream! A few days ago, I asked the store clerk if they would be willing to add that to their stock. Apparently they did! And also, I asked them to add soy milk and they did a few weeks ago.

I guess: Ask and ye shall receive. Next on my list:

1. Huggies Pull-Ups

2. Natural Frito Lays Cheetos and Doritos

3. Country Choice Organic “Oreo” cookies (they’re so delicious! No trans fat, no refined sugars, artifical colors or preservatives)

I think I’ll be all set for a while. Ginger root, fresh green onions, fresh herbs, and others… maybe.

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Why the fuss over Breyer’s Ice Cream?

Friday, May 27th, 2005

Simple. Look at these ingredients. Do you really need those extra stuff?

Blue Bunny Homemae Vanilla Ice Cream

INGREDIENTS: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Skim Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Egg Yolks, Mono & Diglycerides, Carob Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Soy Lecithin, Carrageenan, Vanilla Extract, Artificial Flavor, Polysorbate 80, Annatto (for color), Caramel Color.

Edy’s Grand Vanilla Ice Cream

INGREDIENTS: milk, cream, skim milk, sugar, corn syrup, natural flavor, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, carrageenan, annatto color, dextrose

And, *drum roll*, Breyer’s Natural Vanilla:

INGREDIENTS: milk, cream, pure sugar and natural flavor.

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Living in a small town, Salem

Friday, May 27th, 2005

I love Salem. It’s a great small South Dakota town to live in. There’s Zapp’s Hardware, Salem Farmer’s Market, several insurance agencies, 4 gas stations, maybe 5 or 6 hairstylists/barbers, 3 bars with restaurants (The End Zone serves the best big burgers around), several restaurants (Cookie Jar, Heritage Cafe, Cattleman’s Steakhouse, a pastry/breakfast shop, sub/pizza stop in two gas stations, Krispy Kreme box at one gas station). A bank and credit union. Post office. County Courthouse. A funeral home. Ag equipment factory called Feterl’s and they’re expanding — way to go! A vet. Two medical clinics (9 to 5 pm, call for afterhours). Dental office. Chiropractor’s office.

There are several empty storefronts on the Main street. And they do go for fairly cheap rents or sale prices.

My family and I love it here. People are friendly. They seem to know you everywhere you go. I only have to walk 2 blocks from my home to my office. Nice!

There are some serious downsides to living in Salem.

1. Food. There aren’t enough variety of fresh produce sold in the town. No organic foods available. Not enough selection of brands, i.e. no Breyer’s Ice Cream. We have to make our 40 minute trip to Sioux Falls to shop at Hy-Vee to get what we want. You would think living in an agricultural area you would have access to fresh produce year around (especially if we have greenhouses around here — we don’t now.)

2. Restaurants. There are a few good ones in the area, but after a while, you get tired of the limited choices here. Sioux Falls continue to be the only town with wide variety. There are no fast food places here. Only in Sioux Falls and Mitchell. Even fine restaurants (steakhouses) serve great steaks, but they have poor selection of fresh vegetables and cooked ones. Most, if not all, their appetizer selections are fried. (This is probably because these items can be bought frozen then fried, lasting longer). There’s a Subway’s at a truck stop 13 miles away from Salem (10 from Laurent).

3. Our community of friends are still living in Sioux Falls. My kids signing friends are still there. Only M.E. and I are living in Salem. Our employees do work here in Salem, but they commute from Sioux Falls on a daily basis. My kids go to South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls so they travel 40 minutes in van each day, each way. They get cranky whenever I suggest we go to Sioux Falls after they get home.

#3 is easy to solve with Laurent because we will have signers moving in so we’ll have a community there. #2 also solvable because Laurent’s location next to highway, we will be able to have a good number of restaurants and fast food places. #1 would require some creative planning on County’s part in providing incentives (or even The Laurent Company) in building greenhouses to grow a wide variety of locally grown, organic produce to be sold to local markets and restaurants year around.

Not too bad at all!

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Argus Leader: Officials tailor bill for Laurent

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Proposal allows McCook County to set requirements

SAM BURRISH

[email protected]

Published: 05/18/05 1:55 am

SALEM - Despite continuing opposition, the McCook County Commission voted Tuesday to keep working on a zoning bill that would allow a town for people who use sign language to be developed near Salem.

The bill would allow the proposed town of Laurent but would not let other planned communities crop up throughout the county.

Zoning Administrator John Knox said the proposal would foster organized, controlled economic development.

“We need the people moving into the area,” Knox said. “(The proposal) may be an example for other areas in South Dakota to help growth.”

The county board must approve a new zoning ordinance before Laurent can be built.

Under McCook County’s zoning, there are no provisions for the type of growth Laurent could bring. Zoning is categorized by land use, which does not provide for the formation of new communities.

The commission chose to move forward with a planned development model for Laurent. Unlike previous proposals, the new plan grants the county more power to set requirements.

Knox said any additional county regulations probably would focus on the development’s location, preferably near a “major thoroughfare” - Laurent’s 275-acre site occupies the southeast corner of Highway 81 and Interstate 90.

Also, the county wants to make sure the town will not encroach on agricultural land.

During the past month, McCook residents have voiced concerns about the economic and environmental effects of the new town.

But the issue of how the town would grow in an agricultural area drew questions after Knox read Tuesday’s draft. A dozen McCook County residents attended the public meeting.

Marie Haala, co-owner of the Camp America campground south of Salem, said the commission is rushing the plan and should further study the town.

If Laurent booms, she wondered whether the town would gobble surrounding farmland. Haala said preserving the agricultural community, rather than bolstering economic growth, should be the commission’s top priority.

“Change of this kind should be years of plans, not a ‘Get it done by August’ thing,” Haala said.

Other McCook County residents have questioned everything from Laurent Co.’s financial package to whether the new town’s tax base can fund education for its school-aged residents.

State’s Attorney Roger Gerlach said Laurent won’t break ground until the company shows it has the money to complete the project, guarding against any potential shortfall.

So far, Laurent co-founder Marvin Miller has estimated developing the site could cost “well over $100 million.”

McCook County Commission Chairman Marc Dick said he isn’t completely sold on the idea, even though he agreed to further pursue the plan.

“It’s a pilot. We’ll see how good it works - if it works at all,” he said.

Tuesday’s motion came as a much-anticipated boon for Miller.

“We think the county’s proposal is very good,” Miller said through a translator.

He would like to see the same principles applied countywide.

Miller said he hopes the county will use ideas in the proposal to better regulate how people are building near farmland, such as the Lake Vermillion area.

“As the growth happens, people will probably want to adopt to a plan for compact development,” he said.

If passed, Laurent would be the first town designed specially for people who use sign language. Its developers tout the proposed community as a place where people who use sign language can fully integrate within a society.

Almost 100 families with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or want to communicate through sign language have publicly expressed intent to live in the town, with some residents coming from Europe and Australia.

The Mitchell Daily Republic: Laurent zoning takes another step

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

By SETH TUPPER, The Daily Republic

SALEM - The McCook County Commission proceeded Tuesday with consideration of a zoning ordinance that could allow the construction of a sign-language town.

Commissioners had been informally discussing the ordinance for four weeks. They decided Tuesday, with no opposing votes, to begin the formal consideration process. The first step is a public hearing scheduled for June 7.

The sign-language town, to be named �Laurent,� is the dream of a deaf man named Marvin Miller. His company has private financing and options to buy land at an interstate exit located three miles south of Salem.

The county�s current zoning categories do not allow for the type of mixed land-use that is necessary to build a new town. The proposed ordinance would create a zoning overlay known as a �Traditional Neighborhood Planned Development.�

The county�s planning and zoning administrator, John Knox, based the ordinance on similar measures in other states. Although he had never drafted an ordinance before, he believes this one is the best way to accommodate both the future inhabitants of Laurent and existing county residents.

�It allows you to concentrate your population in a small area, while thoroughly preserving farmland,� he said.

An opposition group, McCook Citizens United, has expressed concerns about Laurent�s potential effect on farmers. Group members say Laurent�s residents might be unaccustomed to rural life and prone to litigation over the sights, smells and other nuisances created by nearby farms.

Members of the group brought a lawyer, Todd Epp, of Sioux Falls, to Tuesday�s meeting. Epp did not speak, and the group did not make any public statements about the ordinance. The group was scheduled to conduct its own meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Montrose.

If the Commission adopts the zoning ordinance, members of McCook Citizens United could refer it to a public vote by filing petition signatures from 5 percent of the county�s registered voters. If that scenario plays out, a special election will probably be conducted in July or August.

Laurent officials had hoped to begin construction by then. They have expressed frustration at the Commission�s slowness in dealing with the zoning ordinance, but Miller made no such comments at Tuesday�s meeting.

The zoning ordinance itself is a complex, 19-page document. It establishes a process of application for individuals or companies who want to build developments that do not conform to the county�s regular zoning categories.

Applicants would have to satisfy numerous requirements. Their development plan would have to �reflect the outcome and consensus� of a collaborative design process; enhance the overall quality of life in McCook County; and, �where appropriate,� be pedestrian friendly, have high-quality community design and architecture, place public spaces in prominent locations and provide for effective transportation and infrastructures including waste management and preservation of natural resources.

Developers would have to demonstrate their qualifications and their �financial capacity.� Developers also would be required to disclose individuals or corporations having a direct financial interest of 20 percent or more in the proposed development.

Laurent officials have so far refused to disclose the names of their investors, saying the investors wish to remain private. McCook Citizens United has demanded �full disclosure.�

The ordinance contains numerous other factors that county commissioners could use in deciding whether to approve or deny applications. The Commission�s decisions on individual applications could not be referred to a public vote.

Commissioner Marc Dick suggested Tuesday that the ordinance should allow only one pilot project. After the pilot project, which would likely be Laurent, he wants the ordinance to be automatically removed from the county�s zoning code. There is no such provision in the ordinance as it is currently written, but Dick said he would offer an amendment.

Dick brought a moment of levity to the meeting when he suggested that a referendum on the zoning ordinance could be scheduled for the same day as an expected referendum on an indecency ordinance. The latter ordinance was inspired by controversy over a strip club located three miles east of Salem.

If both issues go to the polls, Dick hopes the county can save money by putting each one on the same ballot.

�So you can vote on a deaf town and strippers,� Dick said.

It has been quiet here…

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

I’m home taking care of my 4 children while my wife is out of the state, and the office has been fairly quiet. Joe Bartmann, the director of McCook Economic Development Alliance, has set a furious pace of meetings with many key state people in Pierre, S.D. and local and regional leaders in gathering as many facts as possible on the economic impact of building Laurent in McCook County.

We truly believe that by building Laurent in this county, all cities (Bridgewater, Canistota, Montrose, Salem and Spencer) will benefit greatly from the growth. Most, if not all, businesses will experience increase in their potential customer base. Laurent will begin to pull more people off the Interstate 90, and we will work together to maximize their stay in the county.

Miscellaneous office stuff � we’ve been evaluating multifunction color copier/printer/fax/scanner from Ricoh, Canon, Kyocera and soon Xerox. I really love the “scan to e-mail” idea in where you can just scan 50 pages through the automatic document feeder and it e-mails to you in PDF format. Nice!

Also, if you are reading this and you’re a potential Chief Financial Officer or Vice President of Construction, please check the job description at our web site and send us the resume! We’re going to begin interview process within the next few weeks.

The next critical step for us is to educate the County residents about the facts, and working with the Commissioners on getting the form-based coding approved in the County. Why? Form based coding will allow the County to carefully designate areas for city-centric growth, keeping development pressure off the agriculture land. McCook County has beautiful countryside here, and we want to keep that way. I know almost everyone here feels the same.

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