New airport zoning passes first hearing

Park Rapids' 34-year-old airport zoning ordinance is on its way to being updated, following a public hearing Thursday night. The new ordinance will draw in some zoning boundaries to the benefit of property owners along Highway 34 and 8th Street a...

Park Rapids' 34-year-old airport zoning ordinance is on its way to being updated, following a public hearing Thursday night.

The new ordinance will draw in some zoning boundaries to the benefit of property owners along Highway 34 and 8th Street and for the fairgrounds.

Compared to an ordinance proposed five years ago, the new zoning also is less intrusive to the south.

Lyle Kratzke, engineer with TKDA, briefed those attending the hearing. He said the existing ordinance was adopted in 1973 after the Legislature required zoning as a condition of awarding grants. The reason, Kratzke explained, was because government was making significant investments and wanted to protect them.

Kratzke listed several airports that had to be moved because they couldn't expand. The most recent was Willmar's at a cost of $25 million, he said.


According to a local study, Kratzke said, the Park Rapids Airport contributes about $7 million annually to the local economy. "So it's not just a playground for people with too much time and too much money," he said.

The proposed ordinance for Park Rapids would preserve the option of extending the main runway by another 1,000 feet but has pulled in the zones for the turf crosswind runway.

Kratzke covered restrictions in the three airport zones from the most limits to the least, on the ground and in the air.

The next step will be to send the ordinance to the Minnesota Department of Transportation for review, assemble the Joint Park Rapids Hubbard County Airport Zoning Board again to review any changes and send it back to MnDOT for final approval.

Kathy Vesely of the MnDOT Aeronautics planning and zoning office also spoke. She explained airport zones can be smaller today because aviation is safer. Park Rapids' ordinance went beyond the minimums required by the state at the time, she added.

In 1978, the Legislature tweaked zoning to provide protection for homes. Park Rapids' proposed ordinance takes advantage of that, Vesely said.

Cover city

In addition, she said, two years ago the Legislature tied airport funding to community planning and "because the city fathers of Park Rapids have done such a good job being progressive as well as protective," the city is featured on the cover of a MnDOT manual on the subject.


After the presentations, joint airport zoning board chairman Jack Smythe took questions.

Wes Hall of the Shell Prairie Agricultural Association said their one concern was about height restrictions if the fair board builds a new grandstand.

Kratzke said the height limit would be 100 feet.

Hall said a grandstand wouldn't need to be near that tall.

Richard Swenson, who owns 11 acres in the most restricted zone south of the ball fields on 8th Street, asked about compensation, claiming zoning devalues his land and his property taxes keep going up anyway.

Vesely responded, saying state statutes ask cities to use zoning rather than compensation and directing the zoning board to proceed without compensation. She also pointed out the use of Swenson's land would be the same as it is today, that the proposed ordinance doesn't change anything.

Swenson said another one-half acre is in the most restricted zone (A) now and pointed out the city paid $45,000 for a small ponding area in a residential development area nearby.

(The city purchased 2.5 acres needed for a rentention basin to handle water runoff from Pleasant Avenue and the LarMac development. Based on an appraisal, the city paid approximately $18,000 an acre for the property.)


The difference is that when zoning is imposed, the city doesn't gain any ownership, Vesely explained. She also said she assumes Swenson's property taxes are based on current use of the property.

"Minnesota statutes direct cities to protect as much as they can," Vesely said. Cities do purchase land in a runway protection zone, but Swenson's is in a zone where there is still allowable use for agriculture or growing trees, she said.

"The intent of zoning is safety," Vesely added.

Church added to list

On behalf of First Baptist Church, William Rhyther asked if buildings are going to be grandfathered in and what would happen if the church wanted to build.

Any existing use may remain and remodeling would not be an issue, Kratzke said. Building an addition would not be allowed in Zone A, but wouldn't be an issue in Zone B, he explained.

Later in the hearing, but planned in advance, the proposed ordinance was amended to accommodate the church. In fact, the building was divided between Zones A and B so the line will be adjusted so the church is entirely in Zone B.

Ilsa Armstrong also addressed the board. She owns 15 acres she described as being located on Highway 34 and the "bypass." "If you extend the runway zone, it would impact my property greatly," she said.


Since the property is zoned commercial, Armstrong said she has thought it could sell for a filling station and restaurant or something similar. "It's an ideal spot for developing," she said.

The way Armstrong interpreted the ordinance, the land could not be developed where there is a public gathering.

Kratzke said a filling station would be acceptable in Zone B, directing Armstrong to a chart that shows the number of people and square feet allowed. "You could have a small restaurant or shops, just not a movie theater, hotel or motel."

Commercial limits

"But by having restrictions, I am much more limited with what I can do with my property," Armstrong said.

Vesely reminded the uses are in place today; they're not changing.

"Is there any way to change it (the zone)?" Armstrong asked.

Vesely said while there are always alternatives, any change would affect someone else's property.


Vesely suggested there are many types of uses still available to the property, that the ordinance would allow up to 72,500 square feet of building and a site population of 150 people at a time.

Andrew Klein, a resident on 8th Street, asked about his property and was assured that even though it is in the A zone, it is one of the homes specifically exempted from rules.

"Under the existing ordinance, you could not get a permit to add onto your house, but under this one you can," Vesely said, explaining there are about 20 parcels exempted in the same way.

Klein said he's felt caught between politics and airport zoning for 10 years, as his home is currently nonconforming.

The city has worked hard to get these exemptions and they are allowed by 1978 Minnesota statute, after the original Park Rapids ordinance was adopted," Vesely assured.

Howard Warmbold, Straight River Township supervisor, asked what the city will do if it has to do something with the north-south runway.

The airport commission has just completed a planning process, Kratzke said. They're looking for the potential to extend the primary runway to 6,5000 feet and the crosswind runway to 4,000. "Both are ultimate development," Kratzke said.

Warmbold claimed the crosswind runway is seldom used.


Kratzke said the crosswind runway is needed for safety.

After approving the amendment for First Baptist Church, the joint zoning board approved the proposed ordinance and scheduled another hearing for 7 p.m. Jan. 24.

Maps of the revised airport zones are available at city hall.

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