Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 26, 2001

Winsted council overturns planning commisison on development permit

By Patrice Waldron

About 20 people gathered at last Monday's Winsted Planning Commission meeting to voice their concerns about the Winsted on the Lake subdivision, developed by Scenic Homes.

A public hearing concerning the development had been scheduled, but was canceled when Bill Gilk of Scenic Homes decided not to seek amendment to the original development preliminary plat.

In response to the complaints heard at the meeting, the planning commission voted to temporarily suspend the conditional use permit (CUP) issued for the development in 1997, until further investigating could be done.

The decision by the planning commission lasted only three days, as it was rescinded Thursday when the Winsted City Council met.

The council also voted to table the matter concerning the final plat development of the Winsted on the Lake property until the next city council meeting, in order to hear from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

At the council meeting, City Attorney Fran Eggert explained that when he heard that Gilk would not be present at the planning commission meeting, Eggert told attorney Tim Netzel that Eggert would not attend. Netzel represents Scott and Kimberly Bachman, whose property is adjacent to the subdivision.

City Attorney Fran Eggert had talked to City Administrator Matt Podhradsky last Monday, and advised him to hold the planning commission hearing anyway, and if there were any objections, they should be put in writing so the appropriate body of the city could investigate the claims, and make sure the ordinances are being followed.

City ordinance states that claims of violations are to be put in writing, he said.

If there is a valid claim, notice will be given to that person who holds the CUP, and a public hearing will take place to decide if there is reason for any action.

If needed, the city council would take action, such as giving the person time to make corrections.

A person's right to do business normally wouldn't be pulled without giving him the right to a hearing.

The planning commission didn't have the authority to pass that resolution, because it made Gilk stop working, explained Eggert.

"If people make that claim, we're not supposed to just accept that claim . . . the city has an obligation to investigate those claims, and to my knowledge, that was not done," said Eggert.

"It is my advice to the city council to rescind that action of the planning commission for those reasons," said Eggert.

"He can continue to do business on the things that were okay to do until this point," Mayor Don Guggemos clarified.

At the planning commission meeting, Netzel made several allegations about the development, including:

- the moving of housing units to different locations in the development;

- the lot sizes in the development are not big enough;

- Gilk was allowed to somehow circumvent the system without going through the proper channels.

"We don't want to stop the project dead in the water; we just want it put on hold," said Netzel.

Gary Lenz, representing the city council, sat on the original planning and zoning commission, which approved the preliminary plat in 1997.

"I'm kind of a tree-hugger myself. I thought, four or five years ago, I went over everything as thoroughly as I could to make sure everything was in compliance," said Lenz.

"At that time, Mr. Gilk was in compliance, and was willing to come into compliance," he continued.

Bachman explained his accusations.

"The width of the street has been changed; there's no variance for that. The houses have been moved four or five feet; there's no variance for that," said Bachman.

Lenz and Planning Chairman Marv Ebensperger both recalled Gilk bringing changes before the commission.

It was decided that a variance would not have been required because the houses had remained within the same footprint.

A significant difference was noted in the location of a holding pond in the development.

"What I remember about the holding pond was they had some trouble out there with one of the drainage pipes; they were made too shallow by the contractor," said Lenz.

Lenz reiterated that unless ordinances had changed over the years, he felt that the commission acted appropriately at the time, and that Gilk had everything in order.

It was stated that there should be a public record of the variance which allowed for moving the housing units around. Records of the variance were not found by Podhradsky.

It was brought up that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has incomplete information about the development. It is likely that because there was not enough time for the DNR to make a decision on the matter, it was tabled until the April 3 city council meeting.

The atmosphere grew more tense as the meeting wore on.

"Knowing that we're coming here, and there are legal issues being brought to the planning commission, it's convenient that he's not here," said Bachman of Eggert's absence from the meeting.

"As much as you may or may not believe it, this is being staged," said Bachman. "This is all planned. The city administrator met with the mayor today, met with city council members, and other people. This is being staged."

Questions were raised as to whose job it is to make sure developers are following the ordinances.

"Who has been out there over the last four or five years to make sure he's following what's he's doing on paper . . .who's going to start being the watchdog here, to make sure he's actually doing what he says he's doing?" asked Melanie Fiecke, Winsted on the Lake resident.

"Normally, those plans come in and Betty (Zachmann, city clerk) goes over them with the building inspector, so there are checks," said former mayor Floyd Sneer.

It was noted that the building inspector's job is to inspect buildings under construction.

Planning commission member Keith Ide said: "I work out of town, and I don't have the time. We rely on the public to help us out."

Ide went on to thank the people for attending the meeting, and for voicing their concerns.

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