BRAINERD — The new Brainerd zoning code is now in effect.
Council members approved the document on Tuesday, July 6, after sending it back to the Planning Commission in April for further revisions.
“A lot of work and effort has gone into this project, and I’m very proud of the final document,” said Community Development Manager James Kramvik, noting that the roughly 18-month process was guided by the plan. overall of the city.
“The proposed new zoning code will help deregulate zoning processes to help attract and retain some of our current businesses, as well as create whole neighborhoods,” Kramvik said. “It will also help alleviate some of our housing shortages by encouraging the infilling and redevelopment of our neighborhoods. This proposal will also strengthen the form in our contemporary and historic neighborhoods.
Jennifer Haskamp, a consultant at Swanson Haskamp Consulting who helped rewrite the code, explained the major revisions since the board last reviewed the code.
At a public hearing in April, half a dozen people spoke out against some of the zoning district changes. In the new code, the zoning districts are consolidated, a move according to the consultants would help reduce non-compliances in the city. Non-compliances, however, were precisely the problem many speakers had, as parcels of industrial land with businesses would undergo zoning changes that could affect future business operations.
The main problem area was a small strip of land along Brook Street in south Brainerd which includes businesses such as Pike Plumbing and Heating and Gull Lake Sandblasting and Powdercoating.
Under the originally proposed code, this land would become CN-2 for Contemporary Neighborhood Use, which is for primarily single-family detached residential uses. Business owners worried about the change, which would make them non-compliant with the law. And while that means they could continue to operate their business as normal, they couldn’t expand their buildings or sell to someone in another type of business venture.
In response to concerns, council members asked the Planning Commission to review the zoning of these properties.
The commissioners chose to zone the properties as a manufacturing and employment district and add a historic industrial overlay. Manufacturers and jobs are a version of light industry, Haskamp had previously told the commissioners, and the industrial layering would allow for additional industrial uses. This zoning would make businesses compliant.
The commissioners also rezoned the downtown area. They expanded the downtown Main Street area one block south so that the area extends east and west between South Fifth and South Eighth streets, and north and south midway between Washington and Front streets to midway between Maple and Norwood streets. And to retain the character and form of the area, all residential dwellings in the Main Street area must be at least two stories high, the commissioners said.
After hearing about the changes to the code, Council Chair Kelly Bevans raised another issue, that of setbacks and height of fences.
The previous code included a provision for corner lots where the back yard of one house abuts the side yard of another. In these cases, a fence more than 4 feet high could not be built on the part of the rear yard contiguous to the front yard of the neighboring house. That provision is not in the new code, a decision, Kramvik said, that came from commissioners discussing the balance between the property rights of corner lot owners and their neighbors. The new code, instead, states that a fence up to 6½ feet can be built along the side yard and rear yards if they line up with the front of the frontage.
Bevans said there is a project underway in North Brainerd where a 4ft plus back fence that adjoins the neighbor’s side yard is set back just 12ft from the road, although the new code no. was not approved until Tuesday evening. With some residents raising concerns about it, Bevans said he felt he needed to raise the issue and was surprised that none of the staff or the Planning Commission did.
Haskamp said if there was a desire to go back to the fencing guidelines in the original code, it could be done.
Council member Mike O’Day moved a motion to have the final reading of the zoning code, with the caveat of reverting the fence guidelines to those of the previous code, and dispensing with the actual reading.
Mayor Dave Badeaux and council member Tiffany Stenglein said the procedure seemed odd. Badeaux said he was concerned about last-second changes after the code had already gone through a long process with multiple revisions. He also noted that this was not an issue raised by members of the Planning Commission, who recommended adoption of the code as written.
O’Day’s motion failed, with five of the seven council members appearing to vote on it, and Stenglein and Dave Pritschet opposed it. If the motion to dispense with the actual reading of a new order fails, this means that the order must be read in its entirety. Panicked looks struck many faces in the council chamber when Bevans asked Kramvik to read the nearly 200-page ordinance in full.
But before that happened, Stenglein chimed in, asking if she could make a motion to proceed with the final reading of the code as is, without the fencing stipulation. This motion passed unanimously, saving Kramvik from having to read the entire document aloud.
After this vote, there was the public hearing, where council members learned more about the issue of fences.
North Brainerd residents Jessie Hartman and Kelsie Randall said they had already received a waiver to build a fence with 12ft setbacks from the road and had started construction. But after concerns about obstruction of the view by neighbors like Chuck Marohn, the couple said their license had been revoked. They spoke out in favor of the new code guidelines and asked the council to allow them to proceed with the construction of the partially constructed fence, for which they had already obtained the required permission.
Hartman and Randall’s backyard adjoins Marohn’s side yard, a somewhat unique circumstance according to Marohn that doesn’t happen very often in the city but was accounted for in the previous code but not the new one. He asked the board to reinstate this provision, but said the entire code should not be withheld on this issue alone.
Council member Gabe Johnson said that while the code isn’t perfect, he was in favor of approving it as is.
“He’s been fired once already, and they’ve been there for almost two years,” he said, praising staff, commissioners and consultants for the work they’ve done to address concerns.
“I think we have issues, which we’re going to continue to encounter,” Johnson added, “we just have to work well with the Planning and Zoning Commission to move forward and improve the document. So I support the document this evening, and I support its continued improvement in the future.
O’Day agreed, as did Badeaux, who said he thought it would be inappropriate to make a change that the Planning Commission had not proposed.
Bevans said he also agreed, and board members unanimously approved the new code.