April 11, 2012 Planning Commission Minutes

Due to lack of agenda items the planning commission met to discuss topics of frequency and to put together a list of items for future review.

Attendance: Hoffman, Mason, Struck, Erickson (Steve), Sippel. Ericson not in attendance.
Staff: Planner Brixius, Administrator Tolsma, Clerk Lewin, Ex-Officio Widmer

Brixius explained legislative action and quasi-judicial action and the difference between them.

Variance – Brixius said within zoning districts there are specific requirements and a variance would be an exception to the existing code. He said what used to be has changed. He said reasonable use has changed to reasonable use within the context of the property and physical hardship has changed to practical difficulties. He said economic reasons are not accepted as a practical difficulty. He said the new rules give cities greater discretion.

Brixius said variance applications go through the planning commission process and their recommendation goes to the council. The council is the deciding body and a resolution is drafted. Findings of fact are written to explain the decision making process and the legalities in making the decision. Hoffman asked about the example if someone wants to preserve a tree but by doing so has to extend into a setback. Brixius said it comes down to whether or not it alters the essential character of the locality.

Conditional Use – Brixius said within the districts there are “conditions.” If the criteria of the conditions is met, the CUP is approved. He said CUP’s run with the land but, the CUP expires in one year from issuance if it isn’t exercised. Brixius went on to say areas with outdoor storage needs to be fenced and a list of the items to be stored. He said CUP’s can be inspected for compliance as part of the condition. He said it’s different from an interim use in that there is no sunset date. Sippel asked if it’s determined a property owner isn’t complying, can a CUP be revoked. Brixius said, if it’s minor, it’s better dealt with as an administrative fine than a revocation but, if they fail to comply it can be revoked. Sippel asked about an interim use when it’s a tenant versus property owner. Brixius said the interim use expires if the business goes away. He said the city does not have an example of an interim use at the moment. He said the city also does have an option for temporary sales that is administratively issued, such as a fruit and vegetable stand.

Non Conformities – Brixius said typically, redevelopment and eminent domain deals with nonconformities. He said legal nonconformities have recently been expanded to allow nonconforming structures to be replaced if a permit is granted within 180 days of a catastrophic incident. He said with eminent domain, cities cannot require correction as a condition of approval, it gives cities flexibility for modernization and it recognizes existing conditions are more favorable to property owners versus cities.

Creating a Record – Brixius said once a complete application is accepted, a city has 60 days rule for response. If the application is incomplete, a letter stating such is required to be mailed within 15 days of receiving the application. The 60 day rule may also be extended for another 60 days but the applicant must be notified in writing. A further extension requires the applicants approval of the extension. Brixius said it’s important there is good tracking of the application process.

Brixius said variances and CUP’s are supposed to be recorded with the county and it’s the responsibility of the property owner to record. Sippel asked if there is a checklist or guidelines for practical difficulties.

Tolsma asked the planning commission and staff if they have future items they would like to work on. Council member Widmer suggested Coffee Cove cleanup. Mason suggests perhaps this can be held in conjunction with Earth Day. He also wonders about Clean the Lake group. Mason suggests more trash receptacles on the trail.

Sippel asked about the drainage issue at the back of Thor Thompson park before the new basketball court goes in. Tolsma said the basketball court is probably going to be moved towards the playground. Sippel said the ponding needs to be tiled to drain towards the lift station pond.

Mason asked about the playground equipment and if needs to be updated. Struck asked about the railroad ties that define the play area. Struck would like to see the playground/park continue to improve. She said it is a nice area and a lot of good things are being done to it.

Tolsma said Williamson has raised the issue of having the planning commission more involved in the parks. Mason asked about the tennis courts and a backboard that was suggested a while ago.

Sunset Drive – Sippel asked about the status of the Sunset Drive bike trail and sidewalk. Sippel wonders about taking land from affected property owners.

Mason asked about motorcycle activity on Sunset Drive and police speeds on Shoreline Drive.

Erickson asked about the survey stakes in front of city hall and it was explained they are marking stakes for future parking stalls for the trail. This is a joint effort between Three Rivers Park and the Watershed District. Tolsma said six stalls are slated for that area.