Joint work session puts council, planners on same page

The Park Rapids City Council and Planning Commission put their heads together on Monday, May 8.

Park Rapids City Hall
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo

The Park Rapids City Council and Planning Commission laid the groundwork Monday, May 8, to reconsider city regulations concerning signage, mother-in-law apartments, food trucks, cargo containers and the definition of impervious surfaces, among other issues.

City Administrator Angel Weasner said that based on complaints from the community, the city’s sign ordinance has been causing “heartache” in the commercial districts, with business owners asking for less restrictive policies.

Signage issues included a minimum height of 8 feet and a highway business zoning requirement that limits the size of a business sign based on the width of the building.

City Planner Ben Oleson hinted the signage ordinance may also need to be revised in line with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He also said the ordinance’s distinction between pylon signs and monument signs may need clarification.

Oleson said his experience helping the City of Little Falls revise its signage ordinance may help and suggested adding flexibility to the code, limiting sign size by lot size instead of building width and allowing lower signage outside the “sight triangle” at street intersections.


Council members agreed to let Oleson draft a new ordinance to be discussed at a public hearing before the city council acts on it.

Accessory dwellings, etc.

Council members also heard the commission’s concerns about accessory dwellings, popularly known as “mother-in-law apartments.”

Oleson noted that city code defines these dwellings but does not allow them, except for guest cottages in a shoreland district, within 300 feet of a river or 1,000 feet of a lake.

Council members and commissioners debated whether to permit accessory dwellings in other zoning districts as a conditional or interim use, how to enforce permit requirements, and what to do if owners decide to rent out the units.

Council member Liz Stone voiced concern about people setting up cots in garden sheds. Oleson clarified that an “accessory dwelling” refers to a separate living space within a house or garage.

Commission member Bruce Johnson warned against “overlegislating,” creating more and more burdensome rules. Stone advocated leaving things as they are, while council member Joe Christensen noted that if units are permitted, they can be taxed.

A consensus was reached to continue looking at the issue.

The joint workshop also reached a consensus to:


  • Leave food trucks as a matter for a peddler or transient merchant license, administered by city staff, until a food truck ordinance in progress is completed and passed.
  • Continue to prohibit vendors in parks, except possibly art.
  • Administratively permit residential use of cargo containers and semi truck trailers for temporary (up to 60 days), emergency storage only, with the option to apply for a six-month interim use permit after that. Council and commission members envisioned this being used, for example, while a home is repaired after a disaster.
  • Clarifying the definition of “impermeable surface” in a shoreland district to exclude natural dirt or sand driveways – as opposed to roller-compacted aggregate or paved surfaces – and also to exclude decks if water can pour through them and there is no impermeable surface below. Discussion stressed that in other zoning districts, the standard of “lot coverage” does not include driveways.
  • Amend planning commission bylaws to allow a second city council member to serve ex officio, ensuring a quorum until additional commission members are appointed.

Street vacation

The joint council-commission workshop followed a regular planning commission meeting at which commissioners recommended approval of vacating a public street right-of-way on Front Street, from 3rd Street north to the alley between 2nd and 3rd streets.

The request was brought to the commission by Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes, who said the county is considering adding a jail garage, or sally port, to allow prisoners to be dropped off indoors.

Aukes said the addition would either encroach on or possibly reach across Front Avenue, between the back of the Law Enforcement Center and a county garage across the street.

He said this expansion would allow current garage stalls to be converted into additional cells to house inmates needing special accommodations, such as medical care.

Aukes stressed the addition hasn’t been designed yet, but he wanted to gauge the feasibility before moving forward.

No city utilities currently run under that portion of Front Street. However, Hocking noted that it would be wiser to block off the street entirely than to allow traffic to pass through the sub-standard, vacated portion.

Hocking also questioned the safety of squad vehicles backing out into the street, but Aukes suggested designing the new garage with multiple entrances and exits to allow squad vehicles to pull straight through.

The commission voted 3-0 in favor of the vacation, with Johnson abstaining due to attending via Zoom from an undisclosed location.


Commissioners also discussed a request by Brandon Vredenburg for a minor subdivision of two adjacent lots on Central Ave. N., creating two lots sized for single-family homes and a third, remnant lot about 3.4 acres in size. With no action required, the commission offered no advice to the city council about the request.

The planning commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, June 12 at Park Rapids City Hall.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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