City Commission Proclaims Three Rivers as ‘Center of Universe’

Three Rivers City Commissioners approved a motion Tuesday to proclaim the city as the “Center of the Universe.” A citizen named Ann Hermen told the commission she has been collecting stories for years of Three Rivers residents who have found unexpected, local connections in faraway places. Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program (TRDDA) Executive Director Tricia Meyer said the proclamation would benefit the city’s ability to promote itself in a fun and lighthearted way..

Hermen said she has recently started a Facebook page where people can share and read stories about Three Rivers connections they have discovered elsewhere. As an example, she said, when her son moved to California, he had a neighbor he said hi to every day until they finally one day talked. After telling the neighbor where he was from, the neighbor asked Hermen’s son if he knew where Corey Lake is. She turned out being the niece of a local resident named Carolyn Krull.

Lowry shared a story of his own, in which a developer who recently visited TRDDA as part of a business recruitment consultation said he was from a town in northern Iowa where a family member of his had a connection. “My guess is that you all have a story of someone you’ve run into,” Hermen said.

Hermen, Meyer, and Lowry said several other municipalities around the country call themselves the “center of the universe,” but only one, Wallace, Idaho, has made it an official proclamation. The basis for that town’s assertion, Lowry said, was that they challenge anyone to “prove that they are not.” Hermen said that Three Rivers could instead make the proclamation on the basis of its storytelling connections.

Meyer said she has spoken with Christy Trammell, CEO of the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce, who said she would be supportive of presenting the idea to her board for endorsement of the proclamation and its inclusion as part of the tourism section of their organization’s strategic master plan. “We’re not looking for anything budgetary,” Meyer said, but rather for a lighthearted idea that can be used to promote the area, especially since the River Country Tourism Council is no longer functioning. “I just think we could have some fun with it,” Meyer said.

Commissioners discussed the proclamation with Hermen and Meyer for about 12 minutes before approving it with one vote against from Commissioner Clayton Lyczynski II, who said he supported the idea but wanted to officially add quotes to the statement to show that it is made in jest.

Of the approval vote, Lowry said, “we might get a little ribbing, but it’s worth the price.” Commissioner Carolyn McNary said, “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s very interesting and I’m happy about it. Just hearing about it is joyful.”

Commissioners Approve Delinquent Account Assessments

Also on Tuesday, commissioners held a public hearing for the establishment of a Special Assessment Roll for delinquent accounts in which the city addressed hazards and nuisances in violation of the city code and subsequently billed the property owners. The outstanding accounts total $14,515.09. An additional public hearing was held in order to address $6,995.21 worth of delinquent water and sewer accounts. Commissioners waived a second hearing for each measure and passed them both.

One resident spoke to commissioners regarding her account. The city had previously repaired a gutter to bring it into code compliance and billed her for it. Last week, she settled her account. Finance Director Cathy Lawson confirmed that her name will be removed from the rolls included in Tuesday’s measure.

Commissioner Daryl Griffith asked if there were measures in place to prevent repeat offenses. He said he has seen the same names on the delinquent account rolls over and over, particularly with regard to rental properties, and said the city has the authority to revoke rental licenses as an enforcement measure. Lawson said many property owners make payments just in time to avoid rental license revocation, but City Manager Joe Bippus said city staff would follow through with enforcement where permitted by law.

Election Pay Stipends Amended

Currently, election inspectors at the Three Rivers polling station receive $12 per hour and an additional $25 stipend for chair positions on election day. There is a total of four such positions, which can work for up to 16 hours in a day. People serving in the positions also attend state-mandated trainings that can last up to two hours. At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved an amended pay structure.

Under the new structure, the inspector positions will receive $100 for a partial, eight-hour day, $200 for a full day, $35 for the chair position stipend, and $25 to attend mandatory training. The structure came recommended by the Three Rivers Election Commission.

Lyczynski and Commissioner Pat Dane both offered to recuse themselves from the vote to approve the change, since both serve as election inspectors and chairs. However, City Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley advised them that due to the low amounts of money involved, recusal was not necessary.

City Clerk Melissa Bliss said a recently received election grant can help to cover the cost of wages for poll workers. Lyczynski said based on his experience and his observations of Dane, the change was important. He said the job “definitely requires a long day and a lot of precision. Doing the figures at the end of the night and making sure they are accurate is a big deal,” he said, as is making sure the polls have people who have the desire and the skills to do the work.

Bliss said every poll worker for the upcoming November General Election will be paid. She said volunteers have been used in the past, but they were city employees who used vacation days to work the election and paying them would have been a conflict of interest. Bliss said there are enough workers to staff the polls in November, but there are currently no backups in case someone cannot make it to the polls.

Processes to Move Forward for Zoning Application and Draft Zoning Ordinance

The city recently sold four acres of property on Garfield Court to Edwin Allen homes. The company is working to build a series of single-unit rental retirement homes on the land and would like to keep the houses on the lot as a single parcel. However, current restrictions in the B-4 zoning district prevent construction of multiple, single-family dwellings on a single piece of land. Under consideration is an amendment to the City Code that would permit the construction to move forward.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted to accept a draft ordinance amendment for first reading, sent it to the City Planning Commission for review, and to schedule a public hearing on the matter for November 2. City Geographic Information Systems Coordinator John Beebe said that in conversations with the city’s zoning official, Glenn Lindsey, he has ascertained that measures like the one in the proposed language modifications are normal in similar municipalities.

Beebe said he foresees no significant negative impacts or possibilities of creating undesirable situations in other possible applications of the language. Other parts of the code, such as setback language, will still limit the number of dwellings that can be built on a city lot. Beebe said the Planning Commission will look at the possibility of any adverse effects during review. City Manager Joe Bippus said the change permits the city and developers more flexibility.

Another developer, Westview Capital, intends to purchase 23.4 acres of land near the Meadowbrook Farms subdivision and the Armstrong Youth Sports Complex (AYSC) for the purpose of building single-family homes. Bippus said the project’s initial phase would see 10 homes built, with an eventual goal totaling 50 houses. To proceed with the sale and the project, the developer has applied for a Special Exception Use permit.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to permit the application to move forward. The vote does not approve the application or the permit itself. However, Bippus said the developers wanted to know if the application itself was acceptable in order to know whether to spend further time on it. Beebe said that there was some question in working with Lindsey on the application because it included a sketch plan for the proposed development.

Tuesday’s vote permits the application to be forwarded to the Planning Commission for further review. Lowry said, “even though we’ll discuss this more in the future, we want to welcome Edwin Allen.” The company does “quality things here,” Lowry said, and is “one of the few companies that has invested in Three Rivers. I’m thankful we’re getting more houses and families into Three Rivers.”

Beebe said housing growth is one of the priorities identified in the City’s draft Master Plan, which is scheduled for a public hearing and adoption on October 26.

In Other City Business:

  • City Commissioners went into closed session Tuesday evening to discuss a legal matter. Upon emerging from closed session, commissioners authorized Bippus to pursue a settlement with Brussee-Brady. The settlement will have to come back to the commission for final approval. In follow-up comments, Lowry told Watershed Voice that the proposed settlement is in the amount of $225,000 to finish some outstanding details for work on the AYSC.
  • Dane said there is a lot of activity taking place at the AYSC. Plotting for a recently approved, one-mile hiking and jogging path is underway, a storage building is under construction, and work is taking place on some of the complex’s fields.
  • In response to a situation involving a resident keeping chickens illegally, Bippus said Police Chief Tom Bringman is working with the resident and neighbors to resolve complaints through voluntary compliance rather than taking enforcement action. Bippus said that approval for keeping chickens in the city requires having a dwelling for the birds, the consent of neighbors, and compliance with cleanliness requirements.
  • Halloween hours set: Hours for trick-or-treating have been set for October 31 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Lowry said, “It’s still on, just exercise safety.”

This article has been updated to reflect Commissioner Lyczynski’s proclamation vote, to correct Carolyn Krull’s name, and to clarify the Meyer’s comments on her conversation with the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce regarding proclamation support.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.