BRAINERD — Another public hearing is set after Brainerd Planning Commission members made further changes to the new proposed zoning code.
Commissioners worked for about the last year and a half to
rewrite and simplify the zoning code
concerns from community members
about the first draft of the proposed code in April, City Council members opted to send it back to the Planning Commission for further review before approval.
Commissioners spent their meeting later in April discussing properties where zoning would change significantly under the code and deciding what to do with them. During the Planning Commission’s last meeting Wednesday, May 18, staff brought forth a few properties where owners’ concerns remained. Commissioners also talked about the downtown area and how the two proposed zones for that area of the city differ, with separate regulations for the core area near Laurel Street and the streets farther out from the center.
The Planning Commission will host a public hearing for the draft code with the changes during its next meeting at 6 p.m. June 15, at City Hall. If commissioners pass the code, it will then go to the City Council for final approval.
Brook Street industrial properties
Properties brought back for further discussion include those on Brook Street that house businesses, including Pike Plumbing and Heating and Gull Lake Sandblasting and Powdercoating. Business owners told the council in April they were concerned about the proposed rezoning of their properties from industrial to CN-2, for contemporary neighborhood, which is intended for predominantly single-family detached residential uses and associated accessory uses.
With the change, the businesses would become legal non-conformities, meaning they could continue operating, and the owners could sell to someone operating a similar business, but there could be no additions to the property, and a completely different type of business could not operate there.
Sandblasting, told the council they did not want their businesses to be non-conformities. David Chanski, community development director at the time, said the change was due to staff taking into account the city’s future land use map, which sets forth parameters on the kinds of development the city wants to see for certain areas of the city. Many of the properties surrounding those businesses are residential.
After further discussion, city staff brought two options forth to the Planning Commission for the Brook Street properties last week. The first option is to continue with the contemporary neighborhood zoning as planned but allow the business owners to apply for a conditional use permit to continue operating their businesses in a conforming manner. Jennifer Haskamp, a consultant with Swanson Haskamp Consulting who helped with the code rewrite, said a conditional use permit comes with a lot of rights for the property owner, as that permit cannot be taken away as long as the applicant is compliant.
The second option was to zone the properties as a makers and employment district and add a historical industrial overlay. Makers and employment is a version of light industrial, Haskamp said, and the industrial overlay would allow for additional industrial uses. While this option would not require property owners to apply for a conditional use permit, it would be liable to a zoning change in the future if a future council or commission wanted to go into a different direction, Haskamp said.
While commissioners originally voiced support for the first option, Despot said he would prefer the second option, as would Strobel, who Despot said he was also representing at the meeting. Despot said this option meant he would not need to apply for a conditional use permit. Despot said his first preference, though, would be not to change the zoning at all.
“I want to stay conforming without having to go through a lot of rigamarole,” he said.
Commissioners unanimously agreed on the second option after hearing Despot’s thoughts.
The updated code includes two districts for the downtown area: main street and town center.
After commissioners revised the main street parameters during last week’s meeting, the zone runs east and west between South Fifth and South Eighth streets, and north and south from halfway between Washington and Front streets to halfway between Maple and Norwood streets. Town center includes the Northern Pacific Center at the easternmost boundary and runs from 13th Street across the river to Southwest Fourth Street. The north/south boundaries extend from halfway between Washington and Front streets to Oak Street, with the exception of the main street area and a residential zone south of Maple Street between South Eighth and Southeast 11th streets.
Both zones allow for a mix of commercial and residential, with one of the major differences being that residential dwellings would not be allowed on the first floor in the main street district. Residences could be placed above businesses, as is now prevalent along Laurel Street, whereas the town center district would allow for apartment complexes, but any residential buildings would have to be at least two stories, commissioners decided.
Opening the meeting up to public input, the commission heard from City Council member Gabe Johnson, who said main street should encompass the entire downtown area, as the future land use map in the city’s comprehensive plan only has one downtown district.
“You made a lot of decisions throughout the past year and a half based on the future land use map that you created. Your future land use that you made, we approved — we all like it — has one district for downtown,” Johnson told commissioners. “…We like what we have downtown, and we want to replicate that. So I would like to know why we took our future land use map and threw it in the garbage and decided to create two zones downtown.”
While the future land use map identifies general land use parameters for the downtown area, Haskamp said the zoning districts do not need to be a 1:1 ratio with areas on the map.
Secondly, she said the core of what’s happening in the main street area is very different than what’s happening on the surrounding blocks, and the goal of the main street zoning is to protect the current form of Laurel Street and make sure anything new fits with what’s already there.
Johnson spoke before commissioners agreed to move the main street boundary a block south to halfway between Maple and Norwood streets and said after the decision he agreed with protecting as much of that central area as possible, worrying about allowing first-floor residential dwellings taking up commercial space in the core of downtown.
Commissioners also agreed to allow auto body and auto repair shops to operate under a conditional use permit in the town center area as part of the discussion on the zoning of Paradigm Automotive.
Currently zoned B-4 for general commercial, Paradigm Auto is on West Laurel Street, just west of the Mississippi River where the town center district extends. The property was unintentionally left off the first proposed zoning map, so staff brought forth two zoning options for the property, along with an adjoining vacant lot, also owned by Paradigm Auto owner Al Schmidt.
The first option was to move forward with the town center district, under which auto shops can operate with a conditional use permit. Acting Community Development Director James Kramvik said Paradigm Auto would essentially be grandfathered into the zoning and would not need a permit to continue operating but would need one for any expansions.
The second option was to zone both parcels as general commercial under the new code, where it would still need to operate under a conditional use permit. The town center zoning would mean less stringent setback requirements than the general commercial district, meaning it would be easier for Schmidt to add on to his property in the future.
Schmidt addressed the commission last week, asking why the council needs to change his zoning at all and vehemently opposing the idea of working under a conditional use permit. When he first leased the property, it was zoned B-2 for neighborhood businesses, and he had to get a conditional use permit to operate. He then worked with the city to rezone it to general commercial, under which designation he said former City Planner Mark Ostgarden told him he did not need a conditional use permit.
The city’s current code, however, does require a conditional use permit to operate an auto body shop in the general commercial district, meaning Schmidt would already need to get a permit to make any changes. Kramvik said he couldn’t speak as to why Schmidt was not told he needed a permit to operate the business in the first place.
Schmidt said he already jumped through hoops to get his property zoned how he wants it, and it is not fair to have to do so again. He added if he has to operate under a conditional use permit, he will seek reimbursement from the city, as that would likely devalue his business if he ever wanted to sell it.
Under the new code, though, there is no zone where an auto shop would not require a conditional use permit.
Commissioner Tad Erickson, who acts as the city council liaison to the Planning Commission, favored the general commercial designation for Paradigm Automotive after some hesitancy about allowing auto shops in the town center district. Erickson’s motion to zone the property as general commercial died for lack of a second.
The next motion to stay with the town center district for Schmidt’s property passed 4-1, with Erickson opposed. Commissioner Kevin Yeager reiterated the town center district would mean less stringent setbacks for Schmidt and noted he would already need a conditional use permit to add on to his building as it is today.
Schmidt asked if the new zoning would affect his property taxes. Haskamp said she did not believe that would be the case but could get confirmation from the county assessor before the next meeting.