The Park Rapids City Council debated Tuesday about a condition on a variance request recommended by city staff.

The council took up again a request for a side yard setback variance and a utility easement vacation was desired so that Eric and Jessica Mjelde can add on to their garage at 1120 Timbers Drive in the city’s Timbers Addition.

The requests had been tabled at the council’s Oct. 8 meeting due to concerns about whether it was reasonable to require the Mjeldes, as a condition of the variance, to install a drainage basin to retain stormwater or snowmelt runoff on their property, in proportion to the amount of impervious surface their project would add to the site.

City Planner Andrew Mack said city staff’s recommendation was unchanged, and presented a letter in which city engineer Jon Olson maintained that the condition is reasonable.

“We are not trying to mitigate an existing issue,” Olson wrote, “rather (preventing) an existing issue from getting worse.” He also noted that building a shallow infiltration swale, or depression, is a cheaper alternative to installing an underground collection and infiltration system as the Mjeldes had proposed.

Jessica Mjelde told the council about the couple’s research about how much effect their addition would have on future water issues. She said Mack told her that Olson had revised the number of cubic feet of water they needed to retain, based on their downsized addition plans.

Mjelde also said that after a flooding event several years ago in the neighborhood, the city dug a storm swale on adjacent city-owned property, and there have never been flooding issues since then. “If we ever do have water issues in the future,” she said, “my question is: Would my small 9x28-foot garage addition (be) even a drop in the bucket when compared to the possible 22 acres of runoff that may be coming into that storm swale from the other side?”

Mjelde said the volume of water retention Olson wanted to require represented “a little absurd amount of water for us to be responsible for” and claimed that if they were to build the addition on the other side of the property, only a building permit would be required.

“It would add the same amount of impervious ground, and water retention wouldn’t even be a question,” she said. “Our neighbors are the most important reason why we’re trying to stay where we are. We would never want our addition to result in any water issues for them. We simply don’t think that we would be the sole reason for that water problem, therefore we don’t really want to be the only ones standing to correct the possible problem.”

Mack argued that the garage addition would make no sense on the other side due to the layout of the house and garage, but a variance would still be required for the exterior side yard setback.

Mayor Ryan Leckner expressed discomfort with possible liability to the city due to setting aside Olson’s recommendation.

“They could do all this work, and there could be something that occurs that still causes flooding,” said council member Erika Randall. “There’s no guarantees. I appreciate the time and the work that city staff put into this, and I appreciate that our engineer wrote us an updated letter. I still feel that it’s excessive. We have a family that wants to stay in this neighborhood, wants to improve their home in city limits, and I just don’t want to make it so cost-prohibitive that the alternative is to move out of city limits.”

Randall said the condition seemed to her “like preparing for the worst, when there really is no concrete evidence that this is going to be a problem.”

Asked why a garage addition is causing so much concern about water retention due, Mack said, “It’s only pertinent directly because the applicant has applied for an exception to the standard. Our ordinance has cited and my staff report states that when development occurs, they are responsible for providing for that stormwater on the property without discharging it offsite.”

Randall said conditions have to be reasonable and relevant to the project.

Ryan Mathisrud pointed out that the condition is actually required by city ordinance.

Ultimately, council member Liz Stone moved to approve the variance with conditions recommended by city staff, and Randall moved to approve the easement vacation. Both motions passed without dissent.