By Roz Kohls
Dassel City Council members decided Wednesday to delay making a decision about a $3.5 million assisted living facility until tonight, Monday, March 3, although they were told the applicant’s purchase agreement expired Saturday, March 1.
Mayor Ava Flachmeyer said the council still needed “more information” before it makes a decision.
Roz Ewald had applied for a conditional use permit to put a 48-unit, 24-hour customized living facility in a commercial zone at the intersection of Highways 12 and 15.
Ewald told the city council Wednesday that when she started the process, first for a variance, and then later for a conditional use permit, she never dreamed it would take so long. She has never had so much difficulty dealing with any other city as she has had with Dassel, she added.
First the planning and zoning commission couldn’t make a decision in January. And now the city council couldn’t decide “yes or no” in February, she said.
If the council denies the permit for the facility to be built in the commercial zone, it will not be built in any other area in Dassel, regardless of whether the area is residential, said Ewald, owner and manager of Cedar Crest Estate in Hutchinson.
Residents around the Cedar Crest facility complained about the big trucks and semis that supplied the facility at 225 Shady Ridge Rd., Hutchinson. As a result, when Ewald decided to expand, she didn’t want the new facility in a residential area, she said.
If Dassel refuses to allow the facility at Highways 12 and 15, she will investigate putting it in Cokato, Silver Lake or other cities more cooperative, Ewald said.
At the beginning of the hearing Wednesday City Council Member Bob Wilde said city staff members had checked with the State Department of Health whether Cedar Crest actually had a hotel/motel license, as Ewald claimed. They found the facility had two licenses, one for housing services and another as a Class F home care provider, and were told the agency didn’t license for hotels and motels, he said.
Ewald then gave copies of a third license, a lodging establishment license for the facility, to each council member. It is the same license that hotels and motels have. The inspectors who issue the licenses were from Mankato, not St. Paul, Ewald said.
Kelsey Page, attorney for Howard Page, the property owner, asked the council what are the conditions in the permit.
A rough draft of the conditions in the permit were that the facility must have a fence or some kind of screen to separate it from the rest of the commercial activity in the zone, a covenant attached to the property that the owner cannot complain about the commercial activity around it, and that the hotel/motel license is maintained, according to City Administrator Myles McGrath.
Flachmeyer said she is torn in both directions about granting the permit, and that she would love to have the facility in Dassel. “Why can’t you build this someplace else?” Flachmeyer asked.
The assisted living facility doesn’t mesh with other commercial and light manufacturing plants the city wants in the zone. “I’m having a real problem with that,” Flachmeyer said.
Page said it was “specious” for the city to insist the use of a commercial zone can’t be mixed, when it intends to change the commercial zoning ordinance to allow light manufacturing with a conditional use permit.
“You’ve really got to do it,” Page said about granting the permit.
“Visibility is very important to this development,” said John Klick, architect for the facility. Klick designed the layout of the facility so that the building faces both Highways 12 and 15. It wouldn’t work to have the building snuggled into a residential area, Klick added.
“We can co-exist with other businesses up there easily,” said Tanya Bassler, who manages another Cedar Crest facility in Cosmos.
Council Member Al Dunn asked why Ewald didn’t want the facility in a more serene, quiet environment.
Klick responded that the first rooms taken by seniors are the ones where the most activity is. Seniors enjoy watching and being with people coming and going, and seeing trucks and cars driving by, he said
“There is nothing up there now,” Page pointed out about the property in the northwest corner of the intersection of Highways 12 and 15.
In other zoning business, the planning and zoning commission decided Tuesday to continue its hearing for amending the commercial zoning ordinance to allow light manufacturing with a conditional use permit to Monday, March 10. The commission wants some language in the amendment clarified, McGrath said.