The Milaca Planning Commission’s first meeting of the year featured a heated hearing about a controversial rezoning request.
Jay and Rosemary Lunn want to have their property and 1920s area building at 405 First St. E. rezoned from residential to general business district to make it usable for new purposes.
One such purpose might be a taproom brewery.
Jay Lunn is retired and wants to sell the property. Eric Sannerud, another Milaca area resident and CEO of Mighty Axe Hops, has expressed interest in transforming the building.
The brick Lunn Construction Co. building was built in 1926.
In their rezoning application that was reviewed Jan. 13 by planning commissioners, the Lunns stated that over time, the building was surrounded with residential properties.
“I believe this business will bring many benefits to the Milaca area,” Jay Lunn wrote, referring to Sannerud’s business plan. “It will act as a draw from the highway to downtown businesses. It will create a community gathering space and generate additional tax base, jobs, and tourism.”
The majority of residents who attended the Monday night Milaca Planning Commission meeting strongly disagreed.
Approximately 15 people attended the meeting, firmly expressing their critical concerns about the rezoning request.
Residents living near 405 First Street E. are worried a change from residential zoning to a general business district will increase the likelihood of car versus pedestrian or bicycle accidents in the area, boost noise levels and auto exhaust pollution, and create a potential drop in their property values.
The Milaca Planning Commission is an advisory body to the city council and is responsible for ensuring development within the city meets the standards of the comprehensive plan and the zoning code.
Commissioners conduct public hearings to receive comments on variances, conditional use permits, development proposals, subdivisions, and rezoning, but do not have the final say on such matters.
The Planning Commission meets the second Monday of each month. Action items are forwarded to the Milaca City Council for additional discussion and a final vote.
Public hearing held
Resident Carrie Fanum said she did not want to see more traffic in the area and saw no need to change the existing zoning. She wanted it to stay residential, and was the first to speak during the planning commission’s public hearing.
“I’m right across the alley from this property,” she said. “I would hate to see any more traffic in that area than we already have. And as far as I’m concerned, this town has enough liquor already. Why do we need more liquor in a small town?”
Fanum said she wasn’t against Sannerud starting a business, but she didn’t want it in her backyard.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to change the zoning in that area. It’s residential. We don’t need a bar there,” she said.
Resident Nancy Fetzek stated the zoning request, if approved, represented a big change. Her biggest complaint was the potential for increased automobile traffic and noise.
Fetzek said she wanted to live in a stable area, and was concerned about the effect bringing a business to a residential area would have on property values.
Fetzek said she received a city letter informing residents of the proposed zoning change, but all the letter contained was a confusing legal description.
“This is a big change,” she said. “We have kids and the elderly using First Street all the time. I’m not anti-business. This is about the zoning. I would like it to stay residential.”
Resident Gloria Oien then asked about the city’s comprehensive plan.
Zoning Administrator Marshall Lind said the comp plan shows the area as residential and that Milaca’s comp plan has not been updated since 2007.
Oien asked if the plan was going to be updated. Lind said the city was not planning to do so at this time.
“Here’s what I’m getting at,” Oien said. “As long as this stays residential, it goes along with our comprehensive plan for the good of residents and taxpayers.”
Resident Tom Stoll said he was concerned about large amounts of traffic, increase in semi and truck traffic that could be brought about by a zoning change, and did not want to see the peacefulness of the area go away.
“If a microbrewery goes in there, I’m picturing a lot of deliveries if this business is successful,” Stoll said. “If this business is more patrol-oriented, I envision a lot of car and pick-up traffic.”
Building owner speaks
Building owner Jay Lunn addressed the Milaca Planning Commission and residents during the Jan. 13 meeting.
“Let’s not forget this has been zoned commercial property [in the past],” Lunn said. “The reason that it changed was because the other commercial properties around it went out of business. You need one commercial property next to another in order for a specific property to be consider commercial.”
Lind further explained that Lunn was asking to have his construction building property at 405 First St. E in Milaca rezoned from Residential-2 to Business-2.
However, in order to accomplish that, four properties - 325 First St. E. Volunteers of America, 305 First St. E. Kaila Carroll, 110 Fourth Ave. S.E. Conrad Broschofsky, and 120 Fourth Ave. S.E. Carol Brock - would also have to be rezoned to B-2.
State statues do not allow the rezoning of one property located in a different zoning district to be rezoned by itself; the property has to directly connect with an existing B-2.
Rezoning the property itself would be considered illegal spot zoning.
“We can’t just jump a block and zone one parcel,” added Acting Milaca Planning Commission Chair Joel Millam. “It has to continue through the district to those four properties. That would then capture the Lunn Construction Co. property.”
City Council Liaison Cory Pedersen asked if there were other areas where residential zoning abuts B-2 zoning.
Lind said the area just south of the Holiday station all the way to Central Avenue and the city’s north end is zoned B-2.
“There are many places where there are houses along Central Avenue then businesses,” Lind said. Pedersen asked if there had been any problems. Lind stated the city has not received any complaints about the zoning boundaries.
Brewery plan details
“While this isn’t our zoning request, one of the precipitating factors in what Mr. Lunn is proposing is our interest in this building,” Sannerud said, also referring to his wife, Rachel, and the couple’s plans to transform the Lunn Construction Co. building into a brewing facility that would serve the growing craft beer industry.
“We this as a huge positive for the city of Milaca,” Sannerud added. “What we are planning is a small brewery. Our scale is similar to a bar-restaurant. The brewpub culture and the way patrons behave is wildly different than a bar that serves alcohol. We could only serve what we would brew on site. I currently work in the industry, and these types of businesses are a community asset for people of my generation. It’s where we go. It’s a space outside of work and the home. Rachel and I will become the best neighbors possible if we end up your neighbors.”
Pedersen asked about the investment that would be needed to start up a Milaca brew pub. Sannerud said his start-up costs could approach $1 million dollars.
“We looked at a lot of properties,” Sannerud said, responding to a question about other locations. “This is the absolute best building in town for this type of use.”
Pedersen said he was hearing the concerns presented by residents who opposed Lunn’s rezoning request, and the change that it would bring to the neighborhood.
“Having a new idea presented like this can bring up concerns,” Pedersen told those residents. “I appreciate you coming tonight and sharing those concerns.”
Business owner Jordan DeBoer was one of the last people to speak during the public hearing that was conducted during the Milaca Planning Commission’s Jan. 13 meeting. DeBoer said he and his wife moved back to Milaca last summer.
DeBoer has a financial planning practice in the community. He said he supported the rezoning request and the potential development proposed by the Sanneruds.
“One of the things we are looking at doing is being able to grow the local economy,” DeBoer said. “New businesses need to come in. The same businesses aren’t going to be able to support this town forever. What’s being proposed will provide job growth, and interconnect with things the community is trying to do.”
Fanum and other neighborhood residents who opposed the proposed rezoning kept hammering commissioners on the possible effects of more traffic, increased pollution and the impact on school children who cross First Street E. to get to their bus stop.
DeBoer replied that he lives right next to NAPA in Milaca and he has two small children and he has had no problems living next to a business.
Zoning process primer
Lind said the city received two letters opposing the rezoning.
One letter was from Oien, and the other was from Ward Bergquist, who lives at 135 Fourth Ave S.E.
Millam asked for a recommendation from city staff. Lind said the existing property was being used by Lunn Construction Co. for storage. He added if the property wasn’t an existing nonconforming use and structure, the zoning it most likely would fit into is the B-2 General Business District or the I-1 Light Industrial Zoning.
According to Lind, the Lunn property was rezoned to B-2, it would allow different types of business to use the property, but the businesses would also have to follow the B-2 zoning ordinance and the city’s off street parking ordinance.
Lind said he would support the rezoning request from R-2 to B-2 if Milaca Planning Commission members believed the action did not have any adverse effects on the property around it and if the other directly affected residential property owners did not state their concerns about the proposed rezoning.
Pederson asked if the city had heard from the residential property owners who would be rezoned.
Lind stated that city had not received any letters or calls. None of the four property owners attended the Jan. 13 meeting.
Commissioner Sherie Billings made a motion to approve the request from Jay and Rosemary Lunn to rezone their property at 405 1st St E from R-2 to B-2.
Commissioner Arla Johnson seconded Billings’ motion, which passed 2-1. Milam voted in opposition.
Commissioners Scott Harlicker and Pam Novak were not in attendance at the Jan. 13 Milaca Planning Commission meeting.
Millam reminded residents and others in attendance they would have another opportunity to express their opposition to the rezoning proposal when the Milaca City Council considered the Lunn request at its Jan. 16 meeting.