In a split vote on Monday, the Winona City Council voted to allow the former Chula Vista restaurant to obtain a new liquor license on the condition that it repays $35,000 in past-due property taxes within six months.
Owner Vahid Sabati reportedly did not know that his tenant, the operator of the now-closed restaurant, had not been paying property taxes. The tenant had already been given an extension on back taxes when the property's liquor license was revoked in September. Sabati announced intentions to lease the property to another restaurant, and asked the council for leniency. The city generally requires back taxes to be paid in full before liquor licenses are renewed.
"It can be said that perhaps the landlord should have been a little bit more vigilant, and, in fact the landlord has learned a difficult lesson here," said attorney Cindy Telstad, who appeared on behalf of Sabati. "The landlord is taking steps with his new tenant, however, to make sure that this doesn't occur again," she continued.
"In talking to the property owner, I know he has every intention of paying it off as soon as possible," said Winona Mayor Mark Peterson. He added, "I have some sympathy for this guy, this was not just some guy who wasn't paying his property taxes and now wants time to pay them. He genuinely thought that his arrangement with the tenant paying the property taxes was being taken care of."
"I understand that," council member Gerry Krage said. "But I think we may be opening a window here that may be difficult to close. Every year we have hearings with landlords who didn't know their tenants didn't pay the utility bill and then we say, 'Well, you're in the business; you should have known.' And then we would pass that on to them."
Council member Allyn Thurley agreed granting leniency in this case would establish a poor precedent for future liquor license hearings. "I'd rather not give this much time to bring these property taxes up to date," Thurley said. He suggested he might support a 3-month window for repayment, but a motion by council member Michele Alexander to approve the 6-month repayment agreement won in a 4-2 vote, with Thurley and Krage dissenting.
The repayment agreement has teeth, Alexander commented, noting that if scheduled payments are not made within 15 days of the due date, the city can revoke the liquor license. "I think if he signed this, he's going to get it paid," she stated.
Council member Paul Double defended the proposed agreement, as well, calling the fire this summer at the property an extenuating circumstance and saying, "One of the things we don't want to do is see a vacant piece of property. If we can get it into a position where it's generating revenue, rent, and getting paid off, that's what we want."
Lake Park surplus may not be returned to riverfront trail
The city of Winona announced that resurfacing of the Lake Park bike path cost $127,844 less than expected. The surplus was due to a decision not to grind up and reuse the existing pathway, but lay new asphalt on top, due to fears that the ground could not support the heavy machinery needed for asphalt recycling.
While the majority of the project was funded by private donations, city officials pulled $110,000 budgeted for improvements to the dike bike path (also known as the riverfront trail) to help fund the Lake Park resurfacing effort. City Manager Judy Bodway stated that the surplus will be used for additional spending at Lake Park. Bodway had not replied to a request for more information on what that additional spending would be when the Winona Post went to press, but she told another media outlet the money might be used to purchase new signs or water fountains at Lake Park or would be reserved for future maintenance of the lake path.
Mayor Peterson also mentioned plans for additional spending at Lake Park, but said he did not know what specifically was planned. "You'd have to ask Judy," he said.
After the resurfacing project was completed, some citizens were surprised the path was not widened. City Engineer Brian DeFrang explained that while initial plans called for widening the path by two feet, those plans were changed prior to the bidding of the project. That change was not discussed by the council this year.
As part of the Lake Park bike path project, the city commissioned one bronze otter drinking fountain from artist Lynette Power to be placed at the Winona Visitors Center. The council also approved initial plans for another one of the fountains to be placed at Unity Park next year. Those plans called for the approximately $40,000 fountains to be financed using excess water and sewer fees.
Third Street closure
for Cytec cranes
The city council unanimously approved a motion to close Third Street to allow contractors to use cranes during work on the planned expansion of Cytec Engineered Materials facility at Third and Olmstead streets. Two closures lasting three days and four days, respectively, will occur sometime between late February and late March. Cranes will work between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. City staff indicated that one lane of Third Street may remain open. Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said that the cranes are being used to lower new equipment into the building and perhaps to replace the roof. She said that the facility is not adding stories or expanding vertically.