BRAINERD — Brainerd’s new zoning code is now in effect.
Council members approved the document Tuesday, July 6, after having sent it back to the Planning Commission in April for further revisions.
“A lot of work and effort has been put into this project, and I’m very proud of the final document,” Community Development Director James Kramvik said, noting the roughly 18-month process was guided by the city’s comprehensive plan.
“The new proposed zoning code will help deregulate zoning processes to help attract and retain some of our current businesses, as well as help create complete neighborhoods,” Kramvik said. “It will also help alleviate some of our housing shortages by promoting infill and redevelopment in our neighborhoods. This proposal will also reinforce the form in our contemporary and historic neighborhoods.”
Jennifer Haskamp, a consultant with Swanson Haskamp Consulting who helped with the code rewrite, explained the major revisions since the council last looked at the code.
During a public hearing in April, half a dozen people spoke against some of the zoning district changes. In the new code, the zoning districts are consolidated, a move consultants said would help reduce non-conformities in the city. Non-conformities, however, were precisely the issue many of the speakers had, as parcels of industrial land with businesses on them would see zoning changes that could affect future business operations.
The main area with issues was a small strip of land along Brook Street in south Brainerd that includes businesses like Pike Plumbing and Heating and Gull Lake Sandblasting and Powdercoating.
Under the originally proposed code, that land would change to CN-2 for contemporary neighborhood use, which is intended for predominantly single-family detached residential uses. Business owners worried about the change, which would make them legal non-conforming. And while that means they could continue operating their businesses as normal, they would not be able to expand their buildings or sell to someone in a different type of commercial enterprise.
In response to the concerns, council members asked the Planning Commission to revisit the zoning for those properties.
Commissioners opted to zone the properties as a makers and employment district and add a historical industrial overlay. Makers and employment is a version of light industrial, Haskamp previously told the commissioners, and the industrial overlay would allow for additional industrial uses. This zoning would make the businesses conforming.
Commissioners also altered downtown zoning. They expanded the downtown main street area one block south so the zone runs east and west between South Fifth and South Eighth streets, and north and south from halfway between Washington and Front streets to halfway between Maple and Norwood streets. And to maintain the area’s character and form, any residential dwellings in the main street district must be at least two stories, commissioners said.
After hearing about the changes to the code, Council President Kelly Bevans brought another issue forward, that of fence setbacks and height.
The previous code included a provision for corner lots where the backyard of one house abuts the side yard of another. In those cases, a fence of more than 4 feet high could not be constructed on the portion of the backyard abutting the front yard of the neighboring house. That provision is not in the new code, a decision, Kramvik said, which came from commissioners discussing balancing the property rights of corner lot owners and their neighbors. The new code, instead, states a fence up to 6-and-a-half feet can be constructed along the side yard and backyards if they align with the front of the facade.
Bevans said there is a project underway in north Brainerd where a backyard fence taller than 4 feet that abuts the side yard of the neighbor is set back only 12 feet from the road, despite the new code not having been approved before Tuesday night. With some residents raising concerns about that, Bevans said he felt he needed to bring that issue forward and was surprised no staff or Planning Commission members had done so.
Haskamp said if there was a desire to revert back to the fencing guidelines in the original code, that could be done.
Council member Mike O’Day made a motion to have the final reading of the zoning code, with the caveat of reverting the fencing guidelines back to those of the previous code, and to dispense with the actual reading.
Mayor Dave Badeaux and council member Tiffany Stenglein said that procedure seemed odd. Badeaux said he was concerned with last-second changes after the code had already been through a long process with several revisions. He also noted this was not an issue brought up by Planning Commission members, who recommended the passage of the code as written.
O’Day’s motion failed, with five of the seven council members appearing to vote on it, and Stenglein and Dave Pritschet opposed. If the motion to dispense with the actual reading of a new ordinance fails, that means the ordinance must be read in its entirety. Panicked looks struck many faces in the council chambers as Bevans asked Kramvik to read the nearly 200-page ordinance in its entirety.
But before that could happen, Stenglein interjected, asking if she could make a motion to conduct the final reading of the code as is, without the fencing stipulation. That motion passed unanimously, saving Kramvik from having to read the whole document out loud.
After that vote came the public hearing, where council members learned more about the fencing issue.
North Brainerd residents Jessie Hartman and Kelsie Randall said they already received a variance to build a fence with 12-foot setbacks from the road and had begun construction on it. But after concerns about view obstruction from neighbors like Chuck Marohn, the couple said their permit was pulled. They spoke in favor of the new code guidelines and asked the council to allow them to continue building the partially constructed fence, for which they had already obtained the required authorization.
Hartman and Randall’s backyard abuts Marohn’s side yard, a fairly unique circumstance Marohn said does not occur very often in the city but was accounted for in the previous code but not the new one. He asked the council to put that provision back in but said the entire code should not be held up for this one issue.
Council member Gabe Johnson said, while the code isn’t perfect, he supported approving it as is.
“It’s already been sent back once, and they’ve spent almost two years on it,” he said, commending staff, commissioners and consultants for the work they did to address concerns.
“I think as we run into issues, which we’re going to continue to run into,” Johnson added, “we’ve just got to work well with the Planning and Zoning Commission moving forward and improving the document. So I support the document tonight, and I support continuing to improve it moving forward.”
O’Day agreed, as did Badeaux, who said he felt it would be inappropriate to make a change the Planning Commission had not brought forward.
Bevans said he agreed as well, and council members approved the new code unanimously.