September 15, 2021, City Council Variance Public Hearing Meeting Minutes

A Public Hearing on the matter of a setback variance at 387 Cherry St. E was called to order at 6:00 PM by Mayor Chris Hagfors.

Pledge of allegiance was said.

Present:      Mayor Chris Hagfors. Councilpersons: Erica Young, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Hammes.

Absent:       Councilperson Steve Liffrig.

Others Present:  City Administrator Clerk Karl Nahrgang, Bob Josselyn, Dustin Wiebusch, John Clemens, Ann Husbyn, Tom Markson, Angie Grossbach, Mar Whitted, Robin Keller, Ben Ray, Lindsay Wiebusch, Travis Liffrig and Blain Hentz.

Attending via electronic meeting: City Attorney Luke Lamprecht.

The public hearing was held for comment and input on a request for setback variance request by Dustin Wiebusch. Granting the variance would allow him to build closer the front property line than is provided for in Mazeppa Land Management Ordinance.

This variance was brought before Planning and Zoning committee at the August 17, 2021 meeting. The Planning and Zoning committee voted 3 to 1 against advancing the variance to be heard at Public Hearing by Council.

Mr. Wiebusch appealed this decision to Council. A special meeting of Council heard his appeal and request for a Public Hearing on the matter at a Special Meeting of the City Council on August 23, 2021. A Public Hearing was set for September 15, 2021.

Mr. Wiebusch pointed out that he has removed a manufactured home from the location that was located closer to the road than his proposed structure, and that he has redesigned the garage opening and reduced the size of the garage to move further back from the street. Mr. Wiebusch stated that a variance relief from Land Management Ordinance would not alter the character of the neighborhood, would not create a public safety issue, and would be in harmony with the surrounding properties. Mr. Wiebusch made the case that his property presented unique challenges in converting from manufactured homes to permanent multiple, single-family units.

Robert Josselyn, a member of the Planning and Zoning committee, stated that he did not believe that the need for variance from setback ordinance met the undue hardship language in the Land Management Ordinance, He stated that granting a variance would set precedence for future structures on this property, and possible for others in the community.

Ann Husbyn, the future tenant of this unit, said that this was being built as handicap accessible and that removing the attached garage, or moving it to a different location, in regard to the living area of the structure, would defeat the purpose of it being handicap accessible from garage to living area.

Tom Markson stated that it was an improvement to the property, but sited precedent because he was told he could not add on to his garage because the current structure is in violation of current setback ordinance. Mr. Markson said that changing the design, so the garage did not back directly onto the street did ease his public safety concerns.

Lindsay Wiebusch reinforced Ann Husbyn’s comments about handicap accessible, and the change in the type of resident they are providing for by changing from manufactured homes to homes designed for senior citizen and differently abled populations.

Several participants stated they were there to support Mr. Wiebusch in his endeavor to obtain the variance to move forward with his project.

John Clemens cited multiple sections of City Ordinance stating that building permit process and procedure enforcement was lax by City staff, that Council oversight of staff was lax, and that proper enforcement of procedure would have avoided the situation entirely.

Travis Liffrig asked Council if variances were issued on a case-by-case basis. Council responded affirmatively. Mr. Liffrig pointed out that if a variance is considered on the unique merits and challenges of each variance application, that precedent should be a non-issue.

Blaine Hentz verified that a recent survey had been done at Mr. Wiebusch’s property and the pins were staked at that time.

Motion by Nelson, second by Young to close the public hearing. All in favor, none opposed. Carried.

Public hearing was closed at 6:29 PM.

Motion by Hammes, second by Young to reconvene the regular City Council meeting that had recessed on September 8, 2021. All in favor, none opposed. Carried.

Regular City Council meeting was reconvened at 6:30 PM.

Motion by Nelson, second by Young to close the reconvened regular meeting. All in favor, none opposed. Carried.

Regular City Council meeting closed at 6:31 PM.

Motion by Nelson, second by Young to re-open the public hearing. All in favor, none opposed. Carried.

Public Hearing re-opened at 6:32 PM.

Administrator Clerk Karl Nahrgang stated that past Planning and Zoning committees tried to avoid issuing variances and often suggested ordinance change to Council to better fit the needs that a variance might address. Administrator Clerk Nahrgang said that a variance is a tool for Council use to address a need that may be specific to one area, or one property.

City Attorney Luke Lamprecht referred to a 2011 change in the Land Management Ordinance in 2011 that inserted the ‘undue hardship’ language into the ordinance implying an increased burden of need to warrant a variance from ordinance. Attorney Lamprecht advised Council that statute requires five criteria when considering a variance. 1.) Is the subject of the variance used in a reasonable manner? 2.) Are the circumstances requiring the variance the cause of the property owner, or the uniqueness of the property? 3.) Does issuance of a variance alter the essential character of the property? 4.) Is issuance of the variance in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood? 5.) Does the issuance of the variance fit within the comprehensive plan of the City?

Councilperson Mike Hammes cited the concerns over a precedent being started and that could undermine the enforcement of Land Management Ordinances.

Mayor Chris Hagfors acknowledged issue of setting precedent. He stated that any variance brought before Planning and Zoning and then to the Council would be judged on these criteria and the merits of the reason for the variance and did not see a future stream of variance requests suddenly making their way before Council.

Mr. Josselyn stated that he did not believe this did not rise to the five criteria. He stated that he felt that procedures established in ordinance were not being strictly adhered to by City staff.

Councilperson Jeff Nelson said that he lived in this neighborhood and felt that the project in question did meet the criteria for variance. He agreed that with some of the issues that had been presented were valid, but that the property owner requesting the variance had altered the project to address the issues that were brought up by neighboring residents.

Motion by Nelson, second by Young to grant the setback variance at 387 Cherry St. E. All in favor, none opposed. Carried.

Motion by Nelson, second by Hammes to adjourn the Public Hearing. All in favor, none opposed. Carried.

Public Hearing adjourned at 7:09 PM.