The Park Rapids City Council reversed two recommendations by the city’s planning commission on Tuesday, May 25.

At their May 18 meeting, the planning commission had voted 3-2 to recommend that the city council deny a double variance request by Steve Larson.

The variances were to exceed the maximum of 12 apartment units allowed by city code and to operate without the required 1.5 parking spaces per unit. The requests supported Larson’s standing application for a conditional use permit (CUP) to add four apartments at 205 Pleasant Ave. S.

Zoned as R-B residential-business transitional, the former dental office building currently has 11 apartments upstairs and in the rear. Larson wants to convert the remaining dental office space at the front of the building into four more apartments.

City Planner Ben Oleson told the council that he consulted with the city attorney, Flaherty & Hood, and their advice was that the question of the number of units should be handled by a CUP rather than a variance. He advised the council to approve or deny the CUP, then deal with the variance for the parking issue.

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However, council member Tom Conway said he thought the council had to approve the CUP and the variance together, since the biggest concern was about the parking situation.

Practical difficulty

Council member Liz Stone, who cast one of the “nay” votes on the planning commission’s motion to deny the variance request, said she had given more thought to the criteria for a “practical difficulty” – including whether the landowner’s plight was due to unique circumstances not created by the landowner.

Stone said that the building is an old development, constructed in 1955 – before the zoning ordinance was passed – and Larson has owned it since the 1980s. Therefore, she said, the code places a burden on his use of the building.

Both Stone and Larson also stressed the desire of the city’s Comprehensive Plan to provide affordable housing close to the city center, allowing people to live within walking distance of downtown amenities.

Larson noted that his residents tend to be low-income and some of them don’t have a vehicle, so they want to live close to downtown. “It’s the perfect location for them,” he said.

Denying the denial

City Administrator Angel Weasner said the ordinance would require 23 on-site parking spaces for a 15-unit apartment building.

Stone and Larson reckoned there are 11-12 parking spaces currently available, including along the alley behind the building, on the street and in three garage stalls that could be cleared of stored items.

Conway asked whether the neighbors have voiced any concerns about the apartment building and learned there have been no complaints, despite the planning commission holding two public hearings about the matter.

Stone moved to deny the recommended denial of the CUP, and instead to grant the CUP to add four more apartments in the building. She added four conditions: that the garage will be cleared to allow tenant parking; that the rental contract will limit tenants to one vehicle per unit; that tenants will not park overnight on the city lot across the street; and that Larson will file a copy of the contract with the city.

The motion passed unanimously, absent council member Erika Randall.

Stone then moved to deny the denial of the variance request regarding the parking requirement. This motion also passed unanimously.

Other items

In consent items and general business, the council:

  • Approved a CUP to Nicholas Gadbois with Wolf River Electric to install a roof-mounted solar energy system at the John Zentz residence, 104 Riverside Ave.

  • Granted an outdoor concert permit to Tate McLane to hold a free concert and dance from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, June 18 at Heartland Park.

  • Granted a fireworks permit to the Park Rapids Rotary and Flashing Thunder Fireworks for Sunday, July 4.

  • Granted a public facilities use permit to Steve LaFrance to hold a funeral reception for Joyce LaFrance on Saturday, June 5 at Deane Park.

  • Granted a public facilities use permit to Iron Heart Pro Wrestling and Revel Brewing Co. to block 2nd Street in front of the brew pub on Saturday, July 10 and host a pro wrestling event with live music.

  • Hired Chadd Clark as a permanent, part-time public works facilities maintenance worker, effective June 1. His starting wage is $15 per hour per the Teamsters Local 320 labor agreement, and he is to work approximately 24 hours per week.

  • Authorized outside work for Police Officer Colter Diekmann for his seasonal business. Diekmann has owned and operated PR Window Cleaning while off-duty since 2013.

  • Authorized Weasner to sign an agency agreement with the Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation for the city to receive federal airport expense reimbursements and amendments through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

  • Authorized Weasner to accept a $25,000 Heritage Partnership Grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to fund research toward developing the Park Rapids History Trail in partnership with the Hubbard County Historical Society. The project summary describes it as an “interpretive themes study as the first step to creating an integrated heritage tourism program,” involving the Park Rapids Arts and Culture Commission.

  • Approved the low quote of $11,597 from Electric Pump of New Prague to repair two sanitary sewer lift stations. There was another quote from Minnesota Pump Works of Dundas, Minn.

  • Paid Flaherty & Hood, P.A. $1,467 for legal services regarding labor and employment consultations for the police department, general municipal matters and real estate matters concerning Career Path.

  • Paid TKDA $2,240 for work on the airport terminal area taxilanes project.

  • Authorized Weasner to sign an agreement to transfer federal aviation entitlement dollars from the city of Warroad. This is a loan to ensure that the airport’s terminal area and taxilanes project has all the necessary federal funding, and the money is to be returned by May 31, 2024.

  • Amended the city’s Career Path easement from L&H Lodging.

  • Authorized possible overtime for placement of the 2021 Sculpture Trail artworks.

  • Approved temporary on-sale liquor licenses for 2nd Street Stage events in June, July and August.

  • Approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the fee schedule for airport hangar rentals.

  • Heard city treasurer Jeremy Jude report that the city’s 2020 financial audit is in progress.

  • Heard Manager Scott Olson report the Rapids Spirits Liquor Store is behind its May sales numbers compared to 2020, but he noted that Memorial Day weekend had already taken place by this time last year.

  • Accepted donations totaling $1,415, including $500 for the Depot Park tennis courts and $915 for the public library.

  • Approved payables totaling $35,424 and prepaids totaling $171,093.

  • Received written notice from Charter Communications about a change in the Spectrum channel line-up for Park Rapids customers, effective June 1.

The city council’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 at city hall.