A heated discussion broke out at the Blaine City Council Feb. 3 over a possible ordinance change that could make way for a proposed event center at Lexington Avenue NE and Main Street NE.
The council heard the first reading of a code amendment to the planned business district zoning district that would allow meeting and assembly halls under 6,000 square feet as a use allowed by a conditional use permit in the district.
The code amendment was presented after the city received an application from Exquisite Receptions, an event center proposed for the Royal Lakes Retail Center at the corner of Lexington and Main. Currently, the zoning does not support such a use in the planned business district zoning district.
City staff reported that by allowing the application as a conditional use, the Planning Commission and City Council will be able to more closely review parking-related issues associated with the event center, and it allows the city to notify adjacent neighborhoods of such use.
On Jan. 14 the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend denial of the code amendment. During a public hearing at the commission, residents expressed concerns over increased traffic, drivers using private streets and possible outdoor dining noise.
On Feb. 3 the Blaine City Council discussed the code amendment. Council Members Andrew Garvais and Julie Jeppson were not present at the meeting.
At the start of the agenda item, Mayor Tom Ryan asked city planner Lori Johnson to explain the process of the code amendment.
“City ordinance requires that when the City Council chooses to review a rezoning request or property that there be two readings involved with that request,” Johnson said. “The first step in that process was to go to the Planning Commission for the public hearing, and the next step, according to our ordinance requirement, is to do the first reading of the rezoning meaning you (City Council members) hear from a staff report what the proposal is for the code amendment. Then at the next meeting is the second reading, and then you’ll also review the conditional use permit at that time. So generally during the first reading it’s for informational purposes only, and then in two weeks from now you’ll see the item come before you. So that’s how our code amendment and rezoning issues work here for the city.”
Although the public hearing had taken place at the Planning Commission, the City Council allowed residents to provide input at the Feb. 3 council meeting.
“The parcel of land is imminently adjacent to a neighborhood,” resident Christine Kendall said, referring to the proposed center. “It’s not made for a lot of vehicles. ... When we moved into this neighborhood two-and-a-half years ago, there was a Shell gas station there and no access to it from the neighborhood roads. A gas station and convenience store is compatible with a residential neighborhood. Then they built Kwik Trip and closed that one, which is compatible with a residential neighborhood. A day care center, that’s compatible with a residential area, as is a church, but a dining center with outdoor seating, liquor and all of that is not compatible with a residential area. All of these things lined up in a row like they’re planned is going to put an enormous amount of traffic on Fraizer Street and 124th Avenue.”
Resident Kathy Kelly urged the City Council to listen to the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
“I understand this code modification is really affecting the whole city,” she said. “It’s not just for that one event center that’s being contemplated. However, I understand that the event center cannot go in if this doesn’t pass ... The Planning Commission denied this. They rejected it. It’s very simply putting hundreds of cars on a residential street that you’re looking at. ... Event centers and big restaurants just don’t fit in with the neighborhood.”
Resident Roger Meyer also expressed concerns about traffic.
“I get the sense that this is being considered as a change to the ordinance or code for this development,” Meyer said. “Yes it can impact the rest of the city, but it’s certainly an exception for this development. I’d ask the Council to look at that aspect along with all the other reasons that were brought forth on this impact of density and traffic in the area. I think it’s going to have a lot of adverse effects. We’re making, what I think, is an exception for this particular development. It’s compressed as it is, that corner, and this will really be stuffed in there.”
Lenny Lieser, owner of the property where the center is proposed, spoke about his plans for the area. He said he has considered putting a restaurant and bar at the location but would prefer to have an event center because it’s more economical.
“It sounds like from the people of Blaine that they want a bar and restaurant with other things like chiropractors and coffee shops,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been working on for the last year. It’s hard to get a bar and restaurant to pay what I need to put a brand new building on that corner. We’ve been working on it and working on it, and I know that owners of the bars in The Village area, they’re all struggling, and there are two of them that are ready to go under. If we get this event center up and running, they’ll be able to cater, and all of them will be able to cater for events. I have to have different options, so that’s what I’m looking at.”
Lieser said he conducted a traffic study and found an event center would draw fewer cars to the area than a restaurant. In addition, he said an event center would be operational far fewer days out of the year than a restaurant and bar.
“It would help the neighborhood and the intersection as opposed to the restaurant,” Lieser said.
“We have time to think about it,” Ryan said. “Whatever goes in there, I want to make sure it stays. ... I hope we can figure this out and make everyone happy.”
Seeing residents were still concerned, Council Member Jess Robertson offered reassurance.
“This is just a preliminary overview, just letting the council know and the public know this is something that we’re looking at reviewing,” she said. “The recommendation that came from the Planning Commission is just a recommendation. Just for ya’ll’s piece of mind, I live near there. I’m off of Lexington, and I get it. To be honest, all the feedback we heard on your neighborhood during this entire process is feedback that we’re taking into new developments. ... We don’t want to create a nightmare.”
Robertson urged residents to share their concerns with the City Council and city staff by contacting them.
City Clerk Cathy Sorensen then read the first reading of the code amendment. The second reading will take place at the City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The conditional use permit for the event center at Lexington and Main will come before the City Council at a future meeting.