Vedbraaten and Fee vote against ordinance

    Two Crookston City Council members voting against an ordinance amending City Code Chapter 152 “Zoning” for a Gateway Overlay District wasn’t enough to keep it from passing after a detailed discussion during this week’s meeting. At-Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said he read through the proposal and there were items in the amendment that were just “not good.”

    Vedbraaten thought the ordinance tells people “how to run their business” and challenged some of the guidelines including not allowing the sales of used fabricated and modular homes as well as not allowing overhead doors to face the corridor. Vedbraaten said he went “around town” and found “at least 25 businesses” that have an overhead door that faces the corridor.

    “Are we going to tell these businesses if they want to sell it they’ll have to come get a variance before they sell? Vedbraaten asked.

    He also took up issue with “architectural flat metal” on building walls.

    City Attorney Corky Reynolds took the podium and said that if a business comes into town that is significantly different than what occupied the commercial property they are buying, they would have to seek a variance from the council.

    When asked by Ward 1 City Council Member Jake Fee what would constitute going to an underground utility line, Reynolds reiterated that those decisions would be up to the Planning Commission and the council.

    “Each of you could come up with a dozen ‘what ifs’ and it will have to be decided on (those) particular set of facts,” Reynolds explained.

    Ward 3 City Council Member Clayton Briggs wondered if variance decisions would go case-by-case and Reynolds confirmed saying they will have general parameters.

    “The council can say this is close enough,” Reynolds added. “It’s an individual decision.”

    “Then we pick and choose,” Vedbraaten blurted. “We’re going back to that.”

    “Like almost everything you decide on,” Reynolds answered.

    During a June 2019 Planning Commission meeting, the Times reported there was a “preference” around the table to avoid passing an ordinance that’s “supposedly supposed to improve the appearance of commercial properties, only to grant a bunch of variances in the future.”

    “You should never pass codes that set it up where we’ll be approving variances,” Fee said at that June meeting. “You go to all these training sessions, and they say you do the code right in the first place and don’t pass any variances.”

    Ward 4 City Council Member Don Cavalier, at this week’s meeting, asked if the council didn’t have the Gateway Overlay guidelines what would happen and Reynolds said someone would just “come in” and use the property as they see fit, and challenge the city’s present parameters.

    The Gateway Overlay District, regulations on top of the city’s existing zoning regulations, will run along the city’s right-of-ways in many of the primary entrances to Crookston. The primary objective is gradual, long-term change and won’t impact current uses.

    “Gateway overlay districts aren’t about forcing current property owners to make their properties conform to a certain appearance standard. Instead, gateway overlay districts exist in many communities in order to have a positive impact over the long-term, such as when a property in such a district is sold or otherwise changes hands, or the property’s use changes. When things like that happen, the property in its updated status is then required to be in compliance with the terms of the gateway overlay district,” a June 2018 Times story explained.

    “It’s just improving places that most traffic is likely to be, the places more people are more likely to see,” said City Administrator Shannon Stassen at an early March 2018 Planning Commission meeting.

    The Council first voted to approve the Gateway Overlay District in mid-May 2019, then, after a required public hearing was held and the proposal was to have its first reading, there was to be a scheduled second reading but that didn’t happen. It was sent back to the Planning Commission for further discussion. Council Member Vedbraaten vocalized that the community’s industrial park should not be included in the ordinance. Council Member Fee piggybacked the concerns touching on current business’ gravel parking lots saying that paving them would “devalue” some of those businesses. So, the Planning Commission took a “deeper dive” into the ordinance language.

    In June 2019, the Planning Commission removed language related to “hard surface parking lots.”