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MINUTES-PLANNING COMMISSION-REGULAR MEETING-SEPTEMBER 21, 2010

The regular meeting of the Morris Planning Commission was called to order at 5:15 p.m. this 21st day of September, 2010, by Chairperson Kuchenreuther in the Council Chambers of the Morris Senior Citizens/Community Center.

CALL OF THE ROLL:  Roll call was taken with the following members present:  Commissioners Johnson, Granger, Rudney, Hoffman, Gades, and Chairperson Kuchenreuther.  Commissioner Livingston was absent.  Also present were City Manager/Zoning Administrator Hill; Building Official Jacobson and Ex-officio Miller.

READING AND APPROVAL OF 6/15/10 MINUTES:  Commissioner Gades indicated on the 1st page, 3rd paragraph from the bottom, the words “wind turbine” should be changed to “solar thermal unit for the RFC”.  Kuchenreuther indicated in the next paragraph, “everthingl” should be changed to “everything”; the first sentence of the 4th paragraph on the 2nd page should read, “Hill pointed out state code grandfathers in anything that met Code at the time it was done”; in the next paragraph, the “i.e.” should be changed to “e.g.”; and in the 2nd to last paragraph on page 2, the last sentence should read, “This group was looking at the former Steve’s Strawberries location on East 7th Street for a location for the church…..”.  Commissioner Rudney moved, seconded by Gades, to approve the minutes of the 6/15/10 regular meeting with the above-noted changes.  With all present voting in favor, motion carried.

ADDITIONS TO AGENDA:  Granger indicated she has 2 additions to the agenda if there is time to address them following the public hearings.

PUBLIC HEARINGS:  Katherine A. Benson Variance Request:  This hearing is for a zoning variance request from Section 11.23, Subd. 2 D 5 c of the Morris City Code which requires a 10’ side yard setback in a residential (R) zone.  This request is by Katherine A. Benson, 612 West 5th Street, Morris, MN  56267, legally described as Block 2, Lot 10, West Lake View Re-Ar Bk. 2 & 3, Parcel No. 20-1386-000.  This variance, if granted, would allow the addition of an attached double garage within 3 feet of the side yard setback requirement of 10 feet. 

City Manager/Zoning Administrator Hill introduced Mike Jacobson, who is the Building Inspector for the City of Morris.  Hill has asked Jacobson to help with zoning issues in the City.  Jacobson works in Benson 3 days a week and Morris 2 days a week.

Hill indicated there has been a major change in how cities can address variances, and it may affect one, if not both, of the variance requests on today’s agenda. 

The State Supreme Court recently made a ruling that severely limits municipal discretion in the granting of variances.  Specifically, the Court’s decision changed the statutory standard for granting zoning variances. The Court narrowly interpreted the statutory definition of “undue hardship” and held that a variance could only be issued in circumstances where there is not a reasonable use of the property absent the grant of the variance. This is a much stricter standard than previous court interpretations.  Hill has discussed this with City Attorney Glasrud, and Glasrud has indicated this will limit the City’s ability to grant variances.  Hill indicated the League of Minnesota Cities is also looking into this ruling. 

Hill pointed out the Planning Commission discusses “hardship” every time a variance is considered.  Hill believes the legislature will address this in the next session. 

Benson indicated the wall of the structure will actually be 5’ from the property line, and the eave will be 4’ from the property line.  She indicated she has 3 vehicles and cannot park them all in a single car garage.  Commissioner Granger indicated the City ordinances only allow the Planning Commission to grant variances if there is an undue hardship, not a mere inconvenience.  She reiterated the Supreme Court is much more strictly interpreting the “hardship” aspect. 

Benson indicated this really makes her angry.  She indicated she sees garages all over town that are 5’ from the property lines.  She feels this will delay her project and increase her costs.  Kuchenreuther indicated the Planning Commission’s hands are tied on this.  Jacobson pointed out that attached and detached garage setbacks are different.  Benson indicated she wants an attached garage and a 4-season porch.  Granger reiterated that unless it can be proven there is no reasonable use of the property without the variance, the Planning Commission cannot legally approve this request.

Kuchenreuther indicated she feels the City should refund Benson’s $50.00 variance fee.  Hill indicated that seems reasonable. 

Riverview, LLP, Variance Request:  This hearing is for a zoning variance request from Section 11.23, Subd. 2 D 5 a of the Morris City Code which requires a 25’ front yard setback in a residential (R) zone.  This request is by Riverview, LLP, 26406 470th Avenue, Morris, MN  56267.  The subject property address is 100 East 9th Street, and the legal description is Block 24, Lot 7, Original Town, Parcel No. 20-0327-000.  This variance, if granted, would allow a home to be constructed 6 feet into the 25 foot front yard setback requirement. 

Because this is a corner lot, and setback requirements for both streets are 25’, Hill believes this lot would not be able to be used without a variance.  He discussed this with the City Attorney and they both feel the Planning Commission could grant a variance in this situation. 

Hill indicated he received one call regarding this request.  The caller asked about the length of the driveway from the garage to the street, and felt a larger vehicle would block the sidewalk if parked in the driveway.  It was pointed out there will be an attached double garage on this house.  Kuchenreuther noted the garage opens to Oregon Avenue and asked if it could open to the alley.  Kevin Wulf, representing Riverview, LLP, indicated they thought it would be more aesthetically pleasing opening to Oregon Avenue.  Granger indicated she would be concerned about 19’ pickups being parked in the driveway and extending into the sidewalk.

Granger noted the setback establishes a green space corridor along the street, and putting the garage to the alley preserves that green space.  She also noted that in the winter the snow in that vicinity is horrible.  Kuchenreuther indicated she feels having the garage open to the alley keeps it more like the other homes in the area.  Granger noted the City Code states off street parking spaces have to be 20’, and feels another variance should be required for that.  Rudney indicated the off street parking requirements do not pertain to single family homes.  Ex-officio Miller pointed out there are 2 parking spaces in the double garage.

Granger indicated she agrees this lot is essentially unusable without a variance, and she feels it would be a lot better if the green space was preserved along the Oregon façade.  Jacobson suggested one option would be to set the garage back 4’ with the garage to the street side.  Wulf pointed out they would then need a variance on the east side of the property.

Hill pointed out that according to the City Code, the front yard is described as the shortest side of the lot, regardless of how a building is oriented on the lot. 

Miller feels this home would add value to the neighborhood. 

Kuchenreuther indicated she did find a house plan for a 20’ wide home that would fit on this lot.  Jacobson indicated he would like to see the plan to see if it meets the Minnesota building code. 

Don Gieselman, 16850 540th Avenue, indicated he was at this meeting for informational purposes. 

Scott Heinrich, 506 East 9th Street, asked about the overhang on the home.  Wulf indicated the 5’ setback is to the wall of the house, not the overhang.  Jacobson indicated that typically overhangs are allowed to encroach into the setback.

Fran Cin, 106 East 9th Street, indicated she has lived in this neighborhood for 15 years and stated the alley by this proposed home is very difficult in the winter with a lot of snow.  She feels it would be better to have the driveway to the Oregon Avenue side.  In the winter if anyone gets stuck in the snow, it’s in the area of this alley. 

Commissioner Granger moved, seconded by Rudney, that the Planning Commission finds no reasonable use for this lot without a variance because of the fact this is a corner 50’ lot and setbacks are 25’ on each side on a corner lot.   With all present voting in favor, motion carried.

Commissioner Gades then moved, seconded by Rudney, to grant this variance as proposed.  With all present voting in favor, motion carried.

OTHER BUSINESS:  Granger asked if a task force was going to be established to review rental property issues. 

Granger asked the status of the house on East 7th Street by the Salvation Army that has no front yard because it is used as a parking lot.  She asked why they do not have to conform to the City Code.  Hill indicated he questions how the City can make that owner make that change now that the parking lot is there.  Kuchenreuther indicated language in the Highway Business District section of the code indicates no front yard shall be required except that on every lot in the district the front of which is directly opposite any of the classes of residential districts (across the street) there shall be a front yard of not less than 25 feet which shall not be used to provide off-street parking or loading spaces.  Miller asked if there is parking in the back of the building.  Granger indicated there is parking provided there.  Miller asked if someone could talk to the owner about this.  Granger indicated that by allowing this, the City is setting a precedent. 

Hill indicated he feels the issue is when looking at all the codes in their entirety, one will find a lot of things that are done wrong, and questioned if the City should go back and correct those things.  Granger indicated she feels as issues are brought up they should be addressed, and she has repeatedly asked about this situation, and feels it should be addressed.  Hill indicated he is not sure how to go back and try to enforce the parking issue. 

Hill indicated it is likely Denco II will be going through the conditional use permit process because they never got one when the plant was originally started in 1989. 

Gades asked if a checklist should be followed when a building permit is issued.  He suggested having property owners sign a statement when they get a building permit that states they will follow all ordinances.  Jacobson indicated his opinion is that an action without enforcement is of no value. 

Discussion was held on various rental issues.  Granger reiterated she feels a task force should be formed to study various issues.  Hill indicated there is currently a Rental Housing Commission.  Granger indicated Melanie Fohl, who administers the City’s rental housing code, has said the Rental Housing Commission works more on relationships between renters and owners.  Jacobson asked what the charge would be for a task force.  Granger indicated the Planning Commission has talked so many times about issues and she feels this would be a way of dealing with rental issues.  Hill indicated the Code addresses many issues including unit requirements, space requirements, etc.  Granger indicated she feels the rental units have a real impact on the City of Morris. 

Kuchenreuther asked about the timeframe for the zoning hearings and the work session that is going to be held before the zoning meetings.  Hill indicated he is working on the property owner listing.  Kuchenreuther indicated if there are no hearings for the October meeting the work session could be held then. 

Miller indicated the Courthouse project is wrapping up.  Granger indicated she has talked with Dave Schmidt, Facility Operations Director for Stevens County, regarding tree planting. 

ADJOURNMENT: There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 6:40 p.m.

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