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Lester Prairie City Council OK's changes to business district
July 18, 2016

By Brianna Mathias
Editorial Intern

LESTER PRAIRIE, MN – A business district amendment was the focus of Tuesday’s Lester Prairie City Council meeting.

According to Council Member Tim Dahl, an amendment to Ordinance 5.1.6 B-1 Central Business District is underway. Before this amendment takes effect, only business owners can live in apartments attached to their businesses.

The amendment includes the integration of special use permits, which allow people with certain needs to be able to live in such apartments.

Also, before the changes, there were no limits on how far back a residential apartment in a business would have to be.

Dahl said this ordinance will give the council and planning and zoning more control over situations of businesses with attached residences.

“It is the recommendation from the planning and zoning commission to essentially delete the current ordinance and recommend for approval tonight, ordinance amendment,” Dahl said. “In a nutshell, this is going to allow for the mixed use of the business and residential.”

This amendment highlights special use permits and the requirements for when individuals wish to reside in an apartment attached to a business.

“You can’t live within 25 feet of the business on street level,” community development coordinator Adam Birkholz said. “The front 25 feet should be business.”

Other levels of businesses can be used as apartments; the 25-foot rule only applies to street level floors, according to Dahl.

“Now there are special use permits,” Dahl said. “It used to not be allowed unless you were the property owner yourself. So, now this special use principle gives us more control as a city council, as the planning commission, and it should eliminate any living in the first 25 feet of the store.”

The reason these new requirements were proposed, Dahl said, is that the planning and zoning commission is working on revising several outdated ordinances.

“We’re updating our planning and zoning ordinances, or the city ordinances, and this is one of those steps in the massive cleanup approach,” Dahl said. “We really need to make current, modern updates. We’re looking at how our downtown is currently set up, and what the future of that downtown going to be.”

Birkholz explained that the city wants as much foot traffic downtown as they can get.

Council Member Ronald Foust asked why the minimum was pushed to 25 feet.

“That was per legal review,” Dahl said.

City clerk/treasurer Marilyn Pawelk felt there were a few concerns with the requirements and smaller buildings.

“Something less than that would make it kind of impossible for a little shop or anything, to operate in,” Pawelk said. “What happens if the structure is less than 25 feet total?”

In the case of a business with an attached residence being too small, the council would be able to give consent, according to Birkholz.

“We want businesses attracting other businesses to come down here, like our hardware store and our meat market, something that thrives on foot traffic from other businesses,” Birkholz said. “We need to have as much foot traffic downtown as we possibly can.”

Foust asked what would prevent people from using the first 25 feet of a business for storage.

“Nothing does,” Dahl said. “That’s the next thing we have to tackle, because right now, our ordinance allows for storage in the downtown. That’s something that we have discussed. There’s some people on the planning commission that don’t see anything wrong with storage in our downtown area.”

Birkholz said the council and planning and zoning commission will need to define what storage is allowed downtown.

“My vision is certainly not to turn our downtown into a warehouse district,” Dahl said. “We don’t want to have more buildings converted into storage buildings. That’s why we’re taking these steps.”

The amendment was approved by the council, with no one voting against.

In other business, the council:

• discussed how to sell the 1996 International truck.

• praised the successes of the storm sewer project.

• approved the release of a lifeguard.

• considered having an official be a part of the McLeod for Tomorrow Leadership Program.

• talked about the possibility of a solar buy in.

• discussed the storm water utility fee and the capital improvement plan.

• approved the funds for a new basketball pole.

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