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City council waits on rezoning Seventh Street corridor

MORRIS – In a rare split vote, the Morris City Council declined to move forward with rezoning property on the east side of Morris to a commercial district.

Instead, they offered support for the Morris Planning Commission’s plan to develop a commercial and residential zoning district for property along the north side of East Seventh Street between Columbia Avenue and Iowa Avenue.

The issue of zoning in this area first came to light in August when business owners approached the planning commission and city council.

When zoning in the area was changed in 2011 as part of a comprehensive rezoning for the city, their businesses were grandfathered in under their existing uses. But since the businesses were now in a residential zone, there were restrictions on selling, expanding, or changing their use.

At the request of the city council, the planning commission held a public hearing on rezoning the area to a highway business zone on Tuesday, Oct. 15. After a long discussion, the planning commission agreed that going back to a highway business zone didn’t make sense, but wanted time to develop a zone that would meet the needs of business owners and neighbors.

In a memo to the city council for their meeting this week, City Manager Blaine Hill outlined three options for the council to consider:

– have a first reading of an ordinance to change the properties back to a highway business zone;

– do nothing and leave the properties zoned as they are; or

– accept the recommendation from the planning commission to leave the zoning the way it is until a new, residential/commercial district can be developed.

“The easiest thing for you to do as a council is just change it back,” said Hill. “That’s what your original request was – to change it back to highway business.”

Hill also noted that the planning commission could still move forward with the new zoning district on their own and bring a future recommendation to the council, even if they approved the ordinance.

Members of the council had strong opinions about the different options they had to consider.

“I’m a little bit torn on this, myself,” said Mayor Sheldon Giese. “I like the idea of exploring the residential/business zone we don’t have. I would certainly be in favor of the planning commission looking at that no matter what we do tonight.”

“If they rezone it commercial/residential it means both,” said council member Bill Storck. “These guys [business owners] can stay as they are, the homeowners can stay as they are. … If we don’t know what we’re doing, then send it back to the planning commission and have them draw up a plan.”

“Here in front of us is the ordinance to change it back and that’s what we said we wanted to do,” said council member Brian Solvie. “If the planning commission wants to write up something and try to come to another district, they could do so… Let’s not draw this out over two, three months or years by waiting for them to bring us something.”

“My position is move it back to highway business,” said council member Kevin Wohlers. “I just want to know what kind of a message we’re sending to both current and future business people if we do this to a business owner in this town. I think it was an injustice what was done to these people that have a business.”

“What [the planning commission] is looking at doing is planning for the future needs of the area,” said council member Jeff Miller, who also serves an ex-offico member of the planning commission. “No matter what we do it’s not going to move fast. … The planning commission is making a recommendation to us because I think that’s what best for the neighborhood.”

When it came time to vote, Solvie, Wohlers and Giese voted in favor of an ordinance to rezone the area to a highway business zone, while Miller and Storck voted against it.

However, the ordinance failed because a recent state law change requires a supermajority (in this case, four of five city council members) to vote in favor when amending a zoning ordinance to change a residential area.

After the ordinance failed, the council members voted unanimously to have the planning commission work on a commercial/residential zone and encouraged them to move forward with the project quickly.

“Let’s do what we should do and get it done right,” said Miller. “It might take another month or two, but let’s do it right.”

“I don’t want it to be swept under the carpet and forgotten,” said Solvie.

DENCO II seeks grant money to improve water treatment equipment

On Tuesday, representatives from DENCO II presented the Morris City Council with a future facility plan that will use public funds to decrease energy and water use.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a beneficial reuse grant program designed to assist ethanol facilities located close to cities or within city limits to reduce their wastewater output, said General Manager Mick Miller said.

Representatives at DENCO II initially tried to use the grant money to find a way to capture and reuse stormwater, but discovered that the water quality was too inconsistent for ethanol production.

Under the current plan, DENCO II will install about $1.1 million of new equipment at the plant, Miller explained.

Due to terms of the grant agreement, the equipment will actually be owned by the city of Morris with a memorandum of understanding that makes repairs and maintenance DENCO II’s responsibility.

The project won’t cost the city any money, but “the city is the vehicle to access the grant funds for this project,” Miller said.

Miller said the improvements would reduce the amount of water that the plants use, which is ultimately a benefit to the city because it reduces the amount of water used and discharged in the city.

“The steps that we’re taking right now are purely to reduce the amount of water and energy we’re using,” said Miller. 

After the presentation, the council voted to approved the facility plan and directed City Manager Blaine Hill to submit the plan to the MPCA for final review and approval.

If all goes as planned, the new equipment will be installed and working by June or July 2014, Miller said.

Other business

  • The council scheduled a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 5:20 p.m. to consider the assessments for the west side improvement project. In total, the city will be paying about 51 percent of the project, while property owners in the area will pay about 49 percent. Hill told the council that the final assessment amounts will be available at the hearing.
  • Hill told the council that representatives working with Riley Bros. Properties on a proposal for the old elementary school property are close to being ready to make a presentation. Hill said he will suggest they attend the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 26.