The Hopkins City Council denied zoning changes for a residential care home in the Knollwood neighborhood after residents filled the chambers May 7 and expressed their concerns, such as parking and traffic.
In January, city officials became aware that Bruce Lawrence of Wilshire Properties LLC, which operates Grace Homes-Oak Ridge at 601 Oak Ridge Road, was operating the senior care home in violation of the current zoning ordinance by exceeding the number of residents allowed. Current zoning limits licensed residential programs to six residents in this low-density residential zoning district (R-1-D). This particular location is currently operating with 10 residents. Two other Grace Homes are located within the neighborhood. Minnetonka, for example, does allow residential facilities at a maximum of 12 under a conditional use, though zoning standards for this district vary (minimum lot size is 22,000 square feet versus 20,000 square feet in Hopkins).
Under state law, licensed residential facilities serving six or fewer residents must be allowed as a permitted use in any single family residential zoning district. Those serving 7-16 residents must be allowed as a permitted use in multiple family residential districts. The state law provides cities with an option to require a conditional use permit for these uses in multiple family districts.
City staff members recommended the denial of the request. However, the Hopkins Planning Commission voted 4-3 during an April 23 meeting to recommend that the council grant Lawrence the request to allow up to 7 to 10 persons as a conditional use. The recommendation was also inconsistent with the city’s 2030 comprehensive plan.
Lawrence pleaded his case as to why the council should grant him this request. He cited the increasing demand for residential care homes for the aging population, which is served by Grace Homes. He also noted that this particular home was within close proximity to a multi-family housing unit in an R-4 zoning district.
Additionally, having 10 persons in a home only requires one additional staff member, Lawrence said, noting this equates to one additional vehicle.
“I don’t think we were negatively affecting the neighborhood for seven years,” Lawrence said.
“The issue of care home density is something that needs to be addressed at the state level,” he added.
Neighborhood resident Peg Hicks shared concerns that elder care is being driven by “big business” and urged the city to conduct a traffic study in this area.
Another resident, Linda Goldenberg, said the increased traffic and off-street parking on the narrow streets create safety issues, depending on the time of year.
“I would implore you to deny this,” she urged the council.
Jonathan Rosenberg of Twin Cities Care, an elder care advisor service, defending the applicant and the group home model, explaining it’s more cost-effective than in-home care services or larger care facilities where the staff to client ratio is higher.
Ben Rubin, a resident on Cottage Downs, urged the council to go with city staff recommendation for denial.
“You shouldn’t lose sight that this text amendment is strictly the result of a business operating in violation of code ordinance,” he said.
He said he would also like to see radius limits on groups operating within a residential neighborhood, noting three that currently operate around the Knollwood neighborhood.
“Because I don’t think the intention is that they change the fabric of the neighborhood,” to the extent that it becomes no longer a single family residential area rather a commercial area, he said.
Ultimately, the council members sided with the residents.
“This is a really tough one, but for me, it has to stay at six,” said Councilmember Rick Brausen, noting residents have come to live in the neighborhood with that expectation.
Brausen also noted he didn’t think it was up to the council to change the number allowed in a residential group home setting. The issue needs to be addressed at the state level, he said
“They do need to look at protecting neighborhoods in terms of not having too much in one spot,” Brausen said.
Councilmembers Aaron Kuznia and Brian Hunke were concerned with setting a precedent.
“Everyone needs a place to live, but the state law is six for a reason,” Kuznia said, noting if the council grants this request, it will get more similar requests.
Mayor Jason Gadd said he looks at the impact of the entire city when taking into consideration any changes with zoning, “because it has the potential of impacting the entire city and not just one specific neighborhood.”
While Gadd commended Grace Homes in providing quality care for the aging population, he said it was important the city protect its low-density housing.
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