The Chisago County commissioners tackled issues that focus on business development on several fronts at their meeting Wednesday, Nov. 20.

The longest discussion focused on amendments to its zoning ordinance regarding regulations home-based business must follow. The county’s Planning Commission approved the amendments by a 5-2 vote and recommended that two definitions be added: One was to clarify the definition of “minor” home occupation, while the other was to add a definition for a “major” home occupation.

The difference between the two is that a minor home occupation would create no appreciable increase in street traffic, while a major home occupation would determine “moderate” use on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioner Mike Robinson opposed the amendment, noting that Rush City Councilman Frank Storm said during the citizens forum that Chisago County would be the only county in the state with this type of zoning variance.

“If it’s true that we’re the only county out of 87 where we can put factories out in the country, there’s a reason we would be the only one: because it’s wrong,” Robinson said. “If you have a factory in an agricultural zone, that will wreck our roads. … Cities have industrial parks [for this purpose].”

Commissioner Ben Montzka agreed, adding, “I think it’s bad planning. Our cities are where we want businesses because they have broad swaths of commercial areas that are away from residential areas. … I think it’s a step back from having a well-planned community.”

Commissioner Chris DuBose disagreed with Robinson and Montzka, calling it an innovative idea that is business-friendly.

“It is something new, and it is not universal, but we’re not going to have a stamping plant next to a house,” DuBose said. “This is meant to provide an interim step between a person building bird houses in his garage who wants to step up, but can’t afford to build a concrete tip-up in an industrial park.”

Commissioner George McMahon agreed with DuBose, adding, “We’ve got to try something different that may be a key to opening up additional development in our county.”

The home occupation amendment was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Montzka and Robinson opposed.

The commissioners also approved an interim use permit for a 1-megawatt solar garden on 8 acres on the southwest corner of a lot located at county roads 9 and 11 in Sunrise Township.

This is the third request for a solar garden at the property, although only one has been built at this time.

Recently the county has discussed making changes to the ordinances regarding solar gardens. This project would qualify under the current rules, but would not qualify if changes to the rules that are being discussed were implemented.

The commissioners approved the permit request by a 4-1 margin, with DuBose opposed.

Auditor-treasurer position coming off the ballot

The position of Chisago County auditor is about to become an appointed position rather than an elected one.

The commissioners took their final step in that process by moving to approve a contract with Dennis Freed to become the county’s auditor/treasurer. Freed, who has served as county auditor, currently an elected position, for more than 40 years, was appointed county treasurer in May.

In its just-completed session, the Minnesota Legislature set rules for changing elected posts into jobs that are appointed. At Wednesday’s meeting, the Chisago commissioners approved creating the auditor/treasurer position as an appointment in a 4-1 vote, with Montzka opposed.

Residents of Chisago County can still petition to overturn the commissioners’ decision. The petition must be signed by 10% of eligible voters in the county and must be submitted within 30 days following the Nov. 20 vote.

Watershed plan moving forward

The commissioners discussed the county’s role in the One Watershed, One Plan project, a plan that hopes to unite 17 organizations in the Lower St. Croix Watershed in the development and governance of that area.

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on whether Chisago County favored a joint powers entity or a joint powers collaboration to manage the watershed.

DuBose, who is the county’s representative on the 1W1P steering committee, said creating a joint powers entity made more sense. County Attorney Janet Reitz spoke on behalf of a joint powers entity for governance and liability issues, and DuBose said there were other advantages.

“With all of these grants, you have to have a local match, and we could benefit as a unified entity by using everyone’s financial matches,” he said. “But the biggest thing in favor of an entity is that we will have 15-18 different units in this entity … and a decision in a collaboration would take three or four months, which would be cumbersome.”

The other commissioners were concerned about maximizing the county’s voting rights in this collaboration, something DuBose said he understood.

“We have 47% of the land area in the watershed, but we only have two members out of 30 at the table, and that has to change,” he said.

The commissioners eventually voted unanimously for the joint powers entity, then approved supporting the Chisago Lakes Lake Improvement District in its formal request to be involved in the 1W1P process.

Road construction update

With weather having closed the road construction season, the focus has shifted to projects for the coming years.

Chisago County Engineer Joe Triplett said the final design specifications for Trunk Highway 8 were submitted last week, while bids for TH 95 and a roundabout in North Branch will be opened at the end of January.

CSAH 19 should have a final contract design in the coming weeks, and Triplett said work on the specifications for CSAH 25 is about 75% done, with hopes of accepting bids on that project in February.

Currently there are three projects in predesign: The CSAH 30 project in North Branch to be built in 2021, the CSAH 23/24 roundabout south of Chisago City, which is set for 2022, and the TH 8 from I-35 to Karmel Ave.

“We did not get our Federal Build Grant,” Triplett said of the last project. “I don’t know how many projects were submitted from Minnesota, but the state did not get any of that $900 million Build Grant money, and it would be interesting to see why that was.”

ARMER update

The commissioners held a sometimes-contentious meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, regarding the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response radio system and a potential agreement between the county and local police and fire departments who use it.

But that vitriol has given way to a tentative agreement between all of the parties involved.

The result of Monday’s meeting was to hold a bargaining session Wednesday afternoon prior to the board’s regularly scheduled meeting. And that bargaining session resulted in a tentative agreement that will be presented soon, possibly at the commissioners’ scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

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