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Rapid City Council delays decision on proposed apartment complex

A meandering hour-and-a-half discussion between residents, a developer and the Rapid City Council ended without resolution Monday night when the council delayed a decision on an application for a proposed 350-unit apartment complex along Mount Rushmore Road.

The decision to continue the matter until the council’s Feb. 19 meeting was approved 7 to 1 with Alderwoman Lisa Modrick, who supported denying the application, voting in opposition. A previous vote on the matter by the Planning Commission ended in a draw and denial of the application. That decision was then appealed to the council.

At issue is a proposal by Samuelson Development to build five separate four-story apartment complexes on a 14-acre plot northwest of the intersection of Fox Road and Mount Rushmore Road, just north of National American University.

Past Samuelson Development projects include the Copper Ridge Apartment complex about half a mile south of the proposed development. Residents of that development attended Monday night’s meeting to voice their satisfaction with the Copper Ridge apartment complex and their desire for similar developments to be built. Ease of accessibility — the Copper Ridge complex includes elevators in each building — for the elderly and disabled was cited as a major draw, as was the building’s appearance, views and building quality.

But even more area citizens turned out to voice their disapproval. Chief among their concerns was the proposed height of the structures — four stories and 48.4 feet — which they said would block drivers along Rapid City’s “gateway corridor” from taking in the expansive vista of the Black Hills.

Others worried about increased traffic in the area, and what they believed was an incongruity between the proposed development and the city’s plans for the area, which favor commercial development and maintaining the view to support tourism.

Multiple motions were made by the council: first to continue the matter until a later meeting, then to deny the application and then to approve it before the council came back to the original motion.

The application was for what the city deems an “Initial Planned Development Overlay” and is one of the first steps in the process of development. If approved, Samuelson would still have been required to address a number of issues raised by city staff, including landscaping, setbacks, parking, site layout, and traffic before applying for a “Final Planned Development” and receiving a building permit.

Alongside the application were two rezoning requests by Samuelson, which were also continued to the Feb. 19 meeting. The eastern two-thirds of the property is zoned general commercial district and the other one-third is zoned general agricultural district.

Samuelson applied to rezone the entire property to office commercial development, which allows multi-family apartment complexes but caps the height at three stories and 35 feet. The development application included a request for an exception to the height limit.

During discussion, John Samuelson of Samuelson Development said he could potentially reduce the height of some structures to three stories, but it would likely require building an additional structure. He said the land, which rises 36 feet from south to north, makes that difficult.

Other issues the city would like addressed include increasing the front-yard setbacks, removing design plans that would put single-story garages in the property’s front yard, including designs for landscaping and open, usable recreation space, and contracting out a study to assess the impact to the area’s traffic.

The delay in a decision, the council seems to believe, will give Samuelson time to address those concerns.

“I believe there is a compromise here,” Alderman Steve Laurenti said. “Hopefully, we have a product that will make everyone happy and there will be compromise by all.”

Regional Health’s Orthopedic and Specialty Hospital opens
See inside Regional Health's new $55M hospital

Construction workers were wrapping up last-minute details Monday at Regional Health’s new Orthopedic & Specialty Hospital and Sports Performance Institute as the first patients came through the doors.

The hospital at the corner of Catron Boulevard and South Highway 16 in south Rapid City has a surgical hospital with four surgical suites and 10 patient rooms, specialty clinics, a physical-therapy gym and the Sports Performance Institute.

The $55 million hospital, in planning and construction for about five years, puts a number of existing Regional Health services under one roof, including physiatry, podiatry, neurosurgery, orthopedics, sports medicine, weight management and wound care.

Outpatient services that include massage, physical, occupational and speech therapies have moved or will soon move to the new hospital.

“Five years in the works is a long time to work through a project,” said Mark Longacre, president of the new hospital, which now employs 13 physicians and surgeons and about 140 employees.

Many of the caregivers are moving to the new hospital from various locations near Regional Health Rapid City Hospital on Fairmont Boulevard.

Longacre said the new hospital is planning to add another four physicians and 40 employees in the coming year.

“The nice thing is I think we’ve done it the right way. Bringing something new to the community and the Black Hills is exciting,” he said.

The Sports Performance Institute, an 18,000-square-foot center with two levels, is a partnership with EXOS, a Phoenix, Arizona–based human-performance company that was started in 1999 to train elite professional athletes.

Performance Manager Chris Poole said the company also provides employee-wellness programs for Fortune 500 companies and recently branched into the health-care field. Regional Health is the 13th health-care company to partner with EXOS.

The Sports Performance Institute features state-of-the-art weight-training equipment, a 14-foot-tall batting cage and more than 30 yards of indoor turf. It will be open to memberships by the general public.

“The same training system that was used to train all those elite-caliber people in their own respective fields, we use the same program to train youth, high-school and adult population,” Poole said.

The new hospital celebrated a ribbon-cutting grand opening ceremony Monday evening.

PHOTOS: See inside Regional Health's new orthopedic facility

Lawmakers seek to stop state officials from hiring relatives

PIERRE | Republican lawmakers say they're seeking to block state officials from hiring relatives after Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's daughter landed a job in her mother's administration.

Republican Sen. Stace Nelson, the bill's primary sponsor, said in a statement that outraged state residents contacted him after Kennedy Noem was hired. Noem announced in December that her daughter would be a policy analyst in the governor's office. Her starting annual pay is listed at $50,000 on the state website

Two of the bill's sponsors are from western South Dakota: Hot Springs Republican Lance Russell is the co-author and Senate co-sponsor; House sponsor is Republican Sam Marty, of Prairie City, in Perkins County.

Nelson says state employment should be based solely on merit, not on "political family power." A spokeswoman for Gov. Noem didn't immediately comment.

Russell said nepotism is a longstanding problem, calling it an "entitlement attitude" toward state government that "facilitated the EB-5 and GEAR Up corruption scandals." 

The bill would prohibit state officials and employees from serving in a supervisory capacity over relatives, including parents, spouses, children and siblings.

The 2019 legislative session starts Tuesday.



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12 Days of Pizza gives food, cheer to families in need

A program to feed families that began in Rapid City has been such a hit that it’s offering 13,584 meals to parents and children in eight states.

The 12 Days of Pizza program selects families that receive coupons or punch cards for a dozen pizza or chicken meals from Pizza Ranch. The coupons can be redeemed through Jan. 15. Social workers, school counselors and elementary-school staff recommend the families to receive the meal coupons. A requirement is that every family chosen must have at least one elementary school-aged child.

Pizza Ranch and Black Hills Community Bank co-sponsor the 12 Days of Pizza in Rapid City, Sturgis, Spearfish and Deadwood.

The 12 Days of Pizza began in 2015 with 12 families at Robbinsdale Elementary School in Rapid City. The program is the brainchild of Sean Covel, producer of films that include “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The 12 Dogs of Christmas.”

Covel grew up in South Dakota and now lives in Deadwood. When a friend who is a teacher mentioned that at least half her elementary-school class was concerned about having enough to eat during Christmas vacation, Covel wanted to find a sustainable solution.

“That’s the time food insecurity hits families hardest,” Covel said. “This is the only time of year when schools don’t have a way to supply meals. School counselors and social workers have been the real drivers of this because they know those families best. They know which families would benefit the most from this.”

In 2015, Covel pitched the idea of a meal program to Black Hills Community Bank President Jack Lynass and Senior Vice President Shawn Kerns, who contacted Pizza Ranch franchise owners Steve Cronin and Terry Larsen.

They put together and launched the first year’s program in less than a day and fed 12 families the first year. By its second year, the 12 Days of Pizza provided 600 meals to families in the Black Hills. Kerns said the goal is to continue expanding the program into more schools.

“We gift coupons to the schools, and they handle dispersing them to kids and families. We’ve made it a point to not label it as a handout. We view it as, ‘You won this.' We want it to be a positive thing,” Kerns said.

The 12 Days of Pizza program name was inspired by “The 12 Dogs of Christmas” film — and by the child-friendly food.

“What would a 9-year-old eat every meal if they could? Pizza,” said Covel, noting that each family wins a package containing a DVD of “The 12 Dogs of Christmas” and 12 meals.

Every year, Black Hills Community Bank and Pizza Ranch split the cost of the meals. For the 2018-2019 12 Days of Pizza, the bank covers $8 of each meal, and some of the funds come from Black Hills Community Bank employees' Jeans Day donations.

“The stories you hear from teachers and the staff from Pizza Ranch, it’s definitely is filling a need and people are very grateful,” Kerns said. “The holidays can be tough and sometimes frightening for people. We’re excited and proud to be part of it.”

In the Black Hills, between 80 and 90 percent of the meal coupons are redeemed, Kerns and Cronin said. Pizza Ranch offers free delivery to the families. During the Christmas break and New Year, Pizza Ranch saw one of the highest meal coupon-redemption rates ever, Cronin said.

“Families are very appreciative. Last year, we even had one family come back. They wrote a note on their coupon about how touched they were. They were having a tough time and this meant the world to them. That’s just awesome to see the impact it’s having,” Cronin said.

In 2017, the program went viral and grew beyond the Black Hills. With the help of a promotional video Covel made, Cronin and Larsen pitched the 12 Days of Pizza to Pizza Ranch corporate headquarters.

“Things got a little crazy,” Covel said, and the program took off throughout the chain. Currently, 78 Pizza Ranch restaurants in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois are offering meals to 1,132 families, Cronin said.

Some Pizza Ranch locations partner with banks or businesses in their community to sponsor the 12 Days of Christmas; other Pizza Ranch locations sponsor the program entirely, Covel said.

“I see (the 12 Days of Pizza) getting bigger and bigger each year,” said Cronin, noting that Pizza Ranch has locations in 14 states. “It’s neat to see that it’s expanding like it is through the Midwest.”

Having a dozen meals provided during Christmas break benefits kids’ minds as well as their bodies. Covel said his sister, an elementary-school teacher in Sturgis, observed in her class that when children who aren’t eating well return from Christmas break, they struggle to learn. They require two or three weeks of consistent meals to help them get back in the habit of learning, he said.

“It’s been such a blessing for our families, particularly our single moms who are already struggling and need to be able to take advantage of every possible resource to keep their heads above water,” said Ginger Johnson, social worker for the Meade School District.

She helps select families who receive meal coupons. Often the families who get them have faced issues such as job loss, serious illness or other upheaval.

“Families say, ‘This was just like an extra blessing to our family this year. I really try hard to make sure coupons are going to families in need of them, and they really do appreciate that other people are going out of their way to give them a little boost,” Johnson said.

Covel credits the 12 Days of Pizza’s success to local people being willing to help one another. The 12 Days of Pizza is an ideal fit for Black Hills Community Bank and Pizza Ranch, which each have a corporate culture of giving back to their communities.

“One of the charter mandates of Pizza Ranch is to glorify God through contributions to the community,” Covel said. “That’s one of the reasons the 12 Days of Pizza has been able to move through the Pizza Ranch chain.

“This program works for one reason, and that’s that it happens at the community level. It’s a local Pizza Ranch with a local business handling a local program, and that’s the thing I’m most proud of,” Covel said. “I lived in Los Angeles, and poverty is pervasive to the point that it almost becomes invisible. In a small town, nobody turns a blind eye to kids who are going hungry. All you need to do is find a way to address it and it can take off, and in this case it did.”