Split Mendota Heights council denies land use change


At its July 5 meeting, the Mendota Heights City Council denied a request to change the land use of properties at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Sibley Memorial Highway. The property owners wished to have the use changed to medium-density residential to make future redevelopment easier, though approval required a four-fifths vote and too few council members supported the move without, a more concrete plan for the site. courtesy of City of Mendota Heights

Council member cites lack of a plan in denial


For the second time in two months, the Mendota Heights City Council was asked to approve an amendment to the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan. However, unlike the request to change the land use for a different site, this latest request was denied at the July 5 council meeting.

The request was to change the land use for properties located at the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and Sibley Memorial Highway from low-density residential to medium-density residential.

Tim Benetti, community development director, said the request was coming from Keith Ostrosky, Talaia Bowen and Ray Miller, who wish to change the land use for their properties. 

“This is simply a request to change the underlying land use, which may help facilitate a potential redevelopment through rezoning at a later date,” Benetti said.

Low-density residential is the more prevalent land use category for the city, and it provides for single-family home development. 

Medium density provides for townhome and attached-housing developments. It has a zoning of R-2, two family residential, and MR-PUD, medium density residential planned unit development. Under these land uses and zoning, single-family dwellings are still allowed.

Many argue a change in land use can bring into question the character of an area. Benetti said the immediate neighborhood and a bulk of the surrounding properties, even in adjacent Lilydale, are established as multi-family residential developments.

 

Playing the waiting game

Council member Ultan Duggan said the land use change “seemed like putting the cart before the horse.” He said he wondered why there were no survey or grading plans, which are generally considered preliminary to any consideration by staff.

“It boggles my mind that staff is supporting this without having this information,” Duggan said. 

He added that while the concept may be fine, he thinks it lacks facts. Duggan said until he gets those facts, he said he couldn’t begin to consider the request. 

Council member Jay Miller said with work on the impending 2040 Comprehensive Plan coming up next year, he doesn’t see it as prudent at that time to have the discussion on adjusting density. 

Council member Liz Petschel did not agree and said the council made a similar change on the corner of Dodd Road and Mendota Heights Road.

The council took something guided R-1 single family residential and increased the density. 

“Who on earth would want to invest tens of thousands of dollars into looking at medium density on this lot, or what might work on this lot, if the door’s being shut in their face before they even know this is something we would consider?” Petschel asked.

Mayor Neil Garlock said he thinks the council should keep the process moving on the recommendation of “a competent staff” that has been working with the applicants and the recommendation of the planning commission.

He said the council will have to look at it down the road, but the change leaves the process open.

 

Opposition voiced

Kay Frye, a Lilydale resident who lives near the proposed site, said at the meeting she was not in agreement with the request. She said all the surrounding multi-family buildings in Lilydale were built back in the 1960s and 1970s. 

“I feel that all of us that live there, we’re too close to the edge. We’re too high. We’re too deep,” Frye said. “I don’t think they’d be built today.”

She also argued that allowing multi-family residential would change the character of the area. 

Betsy Frye, another Lilydale resident, said based on the number of people who showed up at the planning commission meeting, this is a sensitive issue. 

Lucille Collins said her main concerns with the area are increased traffic and issues with water and drainage. She said everything built around there is on springs and “there are water problems you wouldn’t believe.”

 

Applicant speaks up

Bowen, one of the three who put in the request, was at the meeting. She said she thinks a lot of the discussion of the request doesn’t fit with how she understands the process to be.

“This is simply a request for us to have our personal right as property owners ... to determine how we would like to see the property used, or [to] market it for the future,” Bowen said.

She added that none of the applicants plan to develop immediately, and none of them are developers. 

A developer would have to come in and invest to address some of the concerns Duggan mentioned like survey and drainage issues, Bowen said. Those issues would be addressed in the rezoning request, she added, which is nowhere near where they are in the process.

She said she understands that 2018, and the new comprehensive plan, are just around the corner.

“But to deny someone a right of maybe a marketing possibility, to be honest it’s a sellers market right now,” Bowen said.

 

A divided council 

Petschel made a motion to change the land use, saying Bowen convinced her it was the thing to do.

In the discussion that followed, Duggan said there were a lot of points made about the rights of people, pointing out even those rights, in regards to land, are limited.

“If the people believe sincerely that they are sitting on what you could call a terrific opportunity, then they should put their money where their mouth is and come forward with those ideas, down the line,” Duggan said.

Petschel said in the seven years she has voted on these types of changes, when it made sense, the council had given its approval, and to her, the higher-density land use makes sense for the site.

Garlock pointed out the land use change is just the first step in a long process, and that the council knows there would be more hurdles for any potential developments on the property.

“This just gives them the right to explore those options. It may not develop down the road, but it’s our duty to allow them to exercise their rights,” Garlock said.

The land use change was denied on a 3-2 vote, with Duggan and Miller voting against it — amendments to the comprehensive plan require four-fifths approval to pass.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.


 

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