by Dave DeMars
The St. Joseph City Council members had barely settled in their seats for the Nov. 6 meeting before a parade of concerned citizens addressed them over a proposed rental of the property at 329 Lanigan Way SE.
The Lanigan Way development was originally approved in 2010 as the Rivers Bend Plat 2 subdivision and zoned as R-4 – townhouse and patio-home residential district. It’s a community of about a dozen lots meant for people 55 and older.
Property owners Phil and Kathleen Welter, represented by attorney Anthony Welter, have requested a conditional-use permit for the property, which would allow them to rent their patio home at 329 Lanigan Way SE to a non-owner. The Welters had gone before the St. Joseph Planning Commission with the request, which had carefully examined the request and after a public hearing found no reason to deny the request so long as a rental license was obtained and the property owners complied with the stipulations in ordinance 520.04.
The city council was set to approve the CUP, but neighbors appeared before the council and expressed objections.
“To allow this changes the character of the neighborhood,” resident Thomas Schuller said. “These folks who are moving in or have moved in might be the greatest folks around, but who knows how long they are going to be there. If they decide to move out in three months, six months, what are we going to get next?”
Schuller went on to say he also took issue with the ordinance because it was ambiguous. As written, the ordinance allows for anyone to occupy the property. The ordinance defines the term “family” and includes the words “any unrelated person who resides therein as though a member of the family.”
“Isn’t that anybody?” Schuller asked.
The ordinance language should be more precise, Schuller argued.
“It’s a terrible ordinance the way it’s written,” Schuller said.
He wondered what steps would have to be taken to amend the ordinance and make changes to it.
Mayor Rick Schultz explained changes to the ordinance are the responsibility of the city council and the council regularly undertook consideration of the ordinances, especially when an issue such as this one emerged, but it would not be done this night.
The main concerns of those addressing the council revolved around the idea the property would be rental and might possibly be rented to someone not 55 years or older. LouAnn Schuller was concerned since there were other homes being built in the area, there might be a flood of rentals with absentee owners that would change the character of the neighborhood.
City Administrator Judy Weyrens explained R-1 zoning requires owners to occupy the unit if they are going to rent a room. R-4 allows for non-owner rental, but the person must be 55 and older. R-4 also allowed for smaller lot sizes, different setbacks and other allowances because of the type of housing it is.
Carol Clement wondered whether it might be possible to postpone ruling on the CUP to another night since some people were unaware of the public hearing of the planning commission.
Weyrens responded, saying notices had been mailed out to all neighbors in the area as dictated by ordinance. She added the planning commission was specifically charged with consideration of zoning issues and was really the place to express those concerns. Unless there was some new evidence or findings of fact, there was no way to consider the issue at the council meeting. The council’s hands were pretty much tied, she said.
In the written resolution, Weyrens noted a CUP was permitted, the occupant had to comply with all rental requirements and the renter be “limited to persons 55 years of age or older within the single-family dwelling unit.” She also said the CUP expires in a year, and the property was subject to inspection, and revocation of permit if conditions of the CUP were not met.
Council member Dale Wick said the process is a legal one, and the council had no valid reason not to act on the recommendation of the planning commission at this time. If residents want a change in the ordinance, there are procedures and protocol in place to address their concerns, but for the present, the council has no authority to deny the CUP.
The council unanimously passed the CUP .
Other council business
• The council received information on the bids for the water filtration and rehabilitation work on water treatment plant #1. There were eight bids ranging in price from $166,000 to $226,000. Engineering estimates for the work totaled $221,330. City engineer Randy Sabart was still in the process of reviewing the bid, so no recommendation of award was made.
• Council member Matt Killam updated the council on a Millstream Park grand opening for the new Millstream building. Killam also said the dog park at Millstream Park had received several substantial donations.
• Weyrens updated the council on the proposed Stearns County ordinance dealing with rezoning of certain township properties allowing for townships to develop industrial parks but bypassing some requirements to which the city must adhere. Weyrens informed the council there would be a public hearing at the county board room on Nov. 14. She suggested the council might want to take some action opposing the proposed ordinance since in her words, “it really does take away from what we put into our (industrial) parks and infrastructure we spend money on.”
Weyrens said she had contacted Waite Park and Sartell and both of them plan to oppose the ordinance. Letters have been sent to Melrose and Sauk Centre urging each to oppose the ordinance. Council authorized a letter be sent in opposition to the ordinance and authorized a representative to attend the public hearing to voice the council’s concerns.
• Council approved a resolution supporting the legislative priorities of area cities. Most of the priorities are related to bonding and funding by the state and this represents what the cities in the region see as priorities for their area and urges the state to fund these projects.
• Weyrens informed the council some of the fines for ordinance violation seemed to be out of date and were not effective because of the small cost. A recent rental violation was fined only $100. The ordinance dated back to 2010 and had not been addressed since that time.
“We would like to bump up those fines to $300 or $400 for the first violation,” Weyrens said, “keeping in mind when there is an ordinance violation, people have the opportunity to correct it.”
This update would not apply to traffic fines and vehicle fines, which would be updated as well. Council approved a motion to amend the fee schedule and adopt a new fee structure. Details will be provided at a future meeting.
• Council approved continuation of the Stearns County Assessors Agreement on a three-year cycle.
• Council approved a motion affirming their agreement with the Orderly Annexation Agreement that a person seeking to split one property into two different sites did not have to go through a public hearing process in order to accomplish that task. This would save the property owners about $700. This would also make the agreement parallel to the practices by the county.
• The council also authorized a new refuse agreement with Allied Waste for the next three years. The new rate will increase by 2.75 percent for the first year. There will be one week of cleanup in both spring and fall rather than the present two weeks. This would result in a reduction in the price of a quarter of a percent or approximately 50 cents per month. Part of the problem is there is a lot of abuse of the cleanup week with people from outside the city hauling their waste to friends in order for it to be dumped. It’s hoped a one-week clean up will address that problem.
Author: Dave DeMars
Born and raised in Wisconsin – a “Happy Days” high school experience. Attended UW-River Falls and followed their motto – “Where the free spirit prevails.” Four years in the Army Security Agency (Spies), 31 years teaching English and directing plays. Other jobs – gandy dancer, counselor at mental institution, snowmaker, apple picker, concrete finishing, janitor, furniture mover, appliance sales, insurance sales, media sales, real estate, and writer. I am skeptical to a fault and like all human being I am more oxymoron than I am anything else. I blog at http://www.curmudgeonstwist.net/