By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
Spring Grove could very well be the first city in Minnesota, or perhaps the U.S., to approve the creation of a lawn art exception in its junk vehicle ordinance.
The council held off approving a made-from-scratch ordinance exception at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 21, in order get clarification on the right way to regulate potential lawn art.
City Administrator Julie Amundson told the council the task was “virtually impossible,” and previously said no other city in Minnesota or in 25 other states had an exception for “lawn art” in junk vehicle ordinances. The task comes after the council was asked if non-operative vehicles are placed in lawns as art, is it considered lawn art or still a junk vehicle?
With the help of city attorney Greg Schieber, the proposed Section 5 of the city’s junk vehicle ordinance (Title 900) explains the definition of “Lawn Art,” and that criteria includes:
• Be 45 years or older,
• Placed on a gravel or concrete parking pad or on top of any other weed barrier that prohibits plant growth underneath and immediately around the vehicle
• Be maintained and cared for in a manner that makes the vehicle visually appealing or charming to the average passerby.
• Not have significant body damage beyond the customary wear and tear for the vehicle’s age
• Not harbor wild animals, vermin, noxious insects or weeds
• Not be within the public right-of-way or not to be a visual obstruction at intersections
• Include at least one of the following characteristics: perennial flowers or shrubs, annal flower displays, seasonal displays, rock garden or retaining wall landscaping.
Properties can only have one instance of lawn art.
Amundson added Minnesota statutes state cities “may” make exceptions to junk vehicle ordinances. Size of the lawn art is not defined in the exception, nor has a permit fee been determined (because this falls under ordinances, not zoning).
Police Chief Paul Folz quizzed the council on the ordinance exception. He expressed concern with creating a whole system for one or two properties and potentially opening a “can of worms.”
“... The original thought was it had to be pleasing. Who’s going to make that decision?” he asked. “What’s pleasing to someone isn’t pleasing to me. Where do you draw the line? ... An enthusiast who likes semis ... might have a 1932 Freightliner in their yard.”
Folz also asked the council to define “no significant [body] damage.” Is a dented or buckled hood significant? Amundson said that would be damage, thus the car wouldn’t be allowed as lawn art. Rust would be “customary wear and tear.”
After some discussion, the council directed Amundson to ask Schieber if the lawn art could be placed under an interim use permit, whereas the lawn art would be reviewed on a yearly basis by city staff. A public hearing would also be required for the interim use permit.
The council also agreed to direct Amundson to ask Schieber about pros and cons of a variance and the exception to the ordinance. They also set a special meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 5 p.m. at City Hall to pass or deny the junk vehicle ordinance.
City of Excellence award
The city was presented with the League of Minnesota Cities City of Excellence Award. Deputy director Luke Fisher said the league serves about 854 cities in Minnesota, assisting with research, training for elected officials and city staff, providing insurance and advocating at the state capital.
The city received a shiny plaque, a monetary award of $1,000 and filmed a YouTube video with the League about its collaboration on outdoor classrooms in Trollskogen Park. The video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNTgv3rwPK4.
The 2021 League awards were judged by panels of city officials including representatives from League boards and committees.
The council approved the solid waste contract and amendments with Richard’s Sanitation, which now gives parameters for the newly acquired totes. The council reminds residents that totes cannot be set out until Oct. 5. Individual yellow bags may be purchased at City Hall, and residents may still use the yellow bags with the totes.
On pick-up days, totes can be set out the night before, after 6 p.m. and must be removed by 6 p.m. the next day. The garbage bin and recycle bin must be three feet apart in order for the truck to pick up the bins properly.
The council is not currently allowing “snowbird” rates on the new garbage fee.
The council was also told that the switch would have happened next year, as Richard’s is making the switch for all of its cities.
The council approved an increase in utility rates, effective Oct. 1. The increase is a little less than $2.50.
The council also approved a commercial rebate request for The Little Gnome to replace fluorescent lights with LED, for the about half of the actual bill, for materials only.
The council approved the proposed 2022 tax levy at $650,000.
The next regular meeting of the Spring Grove City Council is Oct. 19, at 6 p.m. at 168 W. Main St.