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To mitigate or not to mitigate? DL does two-step on variance law

The issue has been discussed at length, and instead of solving it in one vote, the Detroit Lakes City Council is planning to amend its zoning ordinance and possibly include mitigation language in separate processes.

After two months of discussion, the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission recommended approving the language change to section 21 of the zoning ordinance that deals with variances and appeals.

The Community Development Committee also agreed to recommend approval to the city council on Tuesday evening.

The topic of mitigation, however, will be discussed again at the Oct. 27 planning commission meeting. They will discuss whether mitigation should be used when granting variances, and if so, what language should be used in the ordinance.

As for the change that will be voted on Tuesday, Community Development Director Larry Remmen said the reason is simply to follow the state's change in wording. In the past, language stated that those requesting a variance would need to prove a "hardship." That has now been changed to a "practical difficulty."

Different organizations, like COLA and the Lake Detroiters, have urged the planning commission to rethink the language changes and ask for more restrictive language to protect area lakes from harmful development.

But Remmen said that issue, especially in regards to requiring mitigation with variances, should be attached to a different section of the ordinance rather than the one in question.

"The Lake Detroiters would argue to wait and get it done right the first time," resident Dick Hecock said of putting all the changes into one motion.

Alderman Bruce Imholte also expressed his desire to wait until all the language is settled and vote on the amendment all together, but said he'd trust the planning commission to look at the mitigation language in October.

He also asked Remmen if the change from hardship to practical difficulty would make it any more or less difficult for people to get variances now.

"We're not going to change how we're going to handle variances," Remmen said. "It's just a continuation of what we've been doing."

He added that it's better to change the language to follow the state as soon as possible simply to follow the law.

The Detroit Lakes City Council meets at 5 p.m. on Tuesday for the vote. The planning commission meets Oct. 27 - they also meet on Sept. 22 but won't be ready for the mitigation discussion until the following month - at 7 p.m.