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DL planning commission shoots down Zorbaz expansion

It seems like everybody loves Zorbaz, but that doesn't mean the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission is willing to approve an expansion plan that would eliminate most of the few existing parking spaces there.

Zorbaz, located on West Lake Drive, now has 20 parking spaces, rather than the 126 spaces that would be required by city zoning ordinance, had Zorbaz (which turned 40 last year) not been grandfathered in.

With the proposed 2,800-square foot addition -- a picnic-type structure with open sides, proposed to replace the tent used last year -- the restaurant and bar would be required to have 189 parking spaces.

But it would actually have just five parking spaces, since the new addition would eliminate 15 spaces, according to the city development department.

Zorbaz has made great use over the years of available parking in Peoples Park and on city streets in the area.

Founder Tom Hanson said parking has rarely been an issue with his patrons, even during the busiest of times last summer.

"We can park almost 500 cars in a block and a half radius of Zorbaz," he said. "Even in summer with parking banned on one side of West Lake Drive, there were no parking issues ... the police chief said that at the last council meeting."

Parking, along with noise, is an issue for some residents on Summit Avenue, however.

Gary Doele, who recently moved with his wife, Pat, into an apartment house on Summit Avenue near Zorbaz, said that weekend parking in the summertime is so tight that residents have to park their cars in the street to essentially save space for weekend guests.

Hanson didn't have a solution for the parking, but he said the new addition would have 6-foot end walls to help funnel noise towards Zorbaz and away from houses in the neighborhood.

60 percent impervious

The addition would result in the Zorbaz property having about 60 percent impervious surface -- way over the 35 percent dictated by the city's zoning ordinance.

But that was much less of an issue for those on the planning commission, because an underground stormwater retention system, designed by Ulteig Engineers Inc., would be installed as part of the project.

That would mean less stormwater runoff into the lake in spite of the higher percentage of impervious surface.

Winter party spot?

Hanson pointed out that Zorbaz helps the city tremendously by drawing in people, and through taxes generated. He said the new addition would be flooded to provide a place for broomball, hockey or other outdoor activities in the wintertime, and a place large enough for winter parties.

He said that's something the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce would like to see in town, and Zorbaz is willing to build it without city financial assistance.

The new structure will look almost identical to the existing outdoor Cowabunga area, Hanson said.

No 'hardship' by Zorbaz

In addition to the parking concerns, planning commission members pointed out there is also supposed to be a "hardship" being suffered by the property owner associated with a variance request.

"I couldn't argue for hardship," said Planning Commission Chairman GL Tucker. "There is no hardship, other than economic, which is not a hardship (under the ordinance)."

Tucker said he likes Zorbaz, but couldn't justify supporting a variance.

"I couldn't look business owners in the eye," he said. "Other business owners spend a lot of money on a lot of land to provide a lot of parking." Planning Commission member Cyndi Anderson disagreed.

She argued that, in the overall scope of things, the loss of a few parking spaces should not kill the variance request. Zorbaz has been operating just fine for the past 40 years and will continue to do so, even with the loss of a few parking spots, she said.

But Planning Commission Member Pat Lindquist worried that Peoples Park will no longer be the quiet area it has been in the wintertime, since the Lincoln Rink public skating area will move there next winter.

A 'temporary' variance?

Most variances are permanent, but the city had explored the idea of a "temporary variance" lasting perhaps three to five years to see how the new outdoors addition at Zorbaz was working out.

That idea was effectively shot down by City Attorney Bill Briggs. He reported that, while some cities are using a creative interpretation of the law to grant temporary variances, courts are sometimes ruling against cities and making those variances permanent.

Business owners successfully argue that it's not fair to for them to make building improvements, only to lose their "temporary variance" and have to tear them down a few years later, explained Community Development Director Larry Remmen.

Parking worries prevail

In the end, the parking worries prevailed, and the planning commission voted to deny the variance request. The motion was made by Lindquist, with Anderson casting the only dissenting vote.

The issue was obviously of great interest to the city council, with six council members attending.

While everyone seemed to agree that Zorbaz would not be forced to come up with 189 parking spaces, Alderman Ron Zeman asked the planning commission to give Hanson some idea of how many parking spots the planning commission would like to see Zorbaz provide.

Lindquist said he'd be content if Zorbaz simply replaced the spaces that would be lost to the new addition.

Tucker upped the ante, saying he'd like to see Zorbaz also replace parking spaces along the east side of the 1300 block of Summit Avenue. He said the city may have to switch to parking by permit only on that side of the street.

Planning Commission member Roger Josephson asked Hanson whether parking could be found on the property he owns next to Zorbaz.

There is an apartment house on the property, largely rented to Zorbaz employees, and the parking lot there is for their use, Hanson said.

The final decision on the variance request will be made at a special City Council meeting set for 5 p.m. Monday at city hall.