A local developer addressed the Park Rapids City Council on Tuesday about a planning permit that was denied.
During a public comment period, David Bitker recalled that the city council approved his rezoning request for a duplex at 604 Riverside Ave.
In October and November 2020, the city’s planning commission and the city council passed zoning changes for a group of properties in the Riverside Avenue neighborhood, including Bitker’s property.
“There was a large garage on there, and we were gonna make it into a house,” Bitker explained.
At that time, he said, then-City Planner Andrew Mack told him all he had to do was come into city hall and pull a building permit. But after three weeks of trying to get a permit, Bitker said, city staff notified him that they wouldn’t issue it.
“Nothing has changed on my part, but it’s changed on your part,” he said, and asked for an explanation.
City Administrator Angel Weasner said she believes staff is following city ordinance. “Previously, it was not being followed, and that is the issue,” she said.
“If we wouldn’t have had the go-ahead to do this from Mack, why would I have spent $800 to rezone this?” said Bitker. “Because it didn’t help me out a darn bit.”
Weasner apologized that Bitker was misled by previous staff, but she stood by current planner Ben Oleson’s interpretation of the ordinance.
“In that case, what about refunding my money that I spent to rezone it, then?” Bitker asked.
Mayor Ryan Leckner asked for an explanation of the ordinance issue involved.
Oleson said Bitker’s property contains a duplex and a garage that he wants to convert into a single-family dwelling. However, the ordinance allows only one primary structure per parcel.
Looking back at the minutes from October and November, Oleson said he saw language suggesting that Mack was OK with that, but Oleson felt the ordinance applies in this case.
“In my experience with other communities, too, it’s pretty rare that you would allow multiple primary structures on one lot like that, unless it’s done through what’s called planned unit development,” he said.
Oleson added that he talked with Mack about the issue, and Mack recalled telling Bitker that if the garage conversion was allowed, he would have to hook up the water and sewer services separately.
“Typically, if you have two structures on a parcel like this, even if it’s grandfathered in,” said Oleson, “there’s always that potential that either the current owner or a future owner is gonna want to split those apart. And so we have two properties that are kind of connected to each other for sewer and water. … That wouldn’t be typical, and could create some issues in the future.”
Oleson said he sensed that Bitker is not interested in providing separate utility connections for the converted garage. Bitker confirmed that connecting to the water main would be cost prohibitive, given how deep the sewer main is buried under Riverside Avenue.
Nevertheless, Oleson said, the biggest ordinance issue is having only one primary structure per parcel.
Bitker complained that his plan was all right last year, but it isn’t now. Council member Liz Stone replied, “Unfortunately, it wasn’t all right at that time. The ordinance was still in place.”
Stone said it was unfortunate that Bitker was misled and, as a member of the planning commission, she felt she was misled as well. “I do apologize for that, and I guess I would like to see us refunding his $800.”
The city council referred the matter to staff to recommend action at the council’s next meeting on Oct. 12.