The Houston Planning and Zoning Commission met at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 3 at Houston City Hall. The meeting began with a public hearing regarding a variance for garage size at 110 North Chase street. There was no public comment and the commission moved on to discuss the situation. Administrator Peterson explained that the reason for the variance requirement on the garage had to do with a change in the zoning code that set a maximum garage size of 1,300 square feet, or 125% of the house footprint, whichever is smaller. The proposed garage met all setback requirements, but a variance was required from the city due to the square footage. The existing garage is roughly 1040 square feet, and the proposed new garage is 432 square feet, making a total of 1,472 of total square footage. The maximum size rule was originally put in place to give the commission and city council a chance to “really understand what’s going on,” Peterson said, preventing someone with a 500-square-foot house from constructing a 5,000-square-foot warehouse-style garage. This purpose of the variance the commission a chance to set any conditions they may want for the garage, such as requiring a larger garage not be used for any commercial purposes in a residential area.
Administrator Peterson asked the commission to consider whether or not the situation was unique enough to grant a variance, whether it works within the existing city code, and whether the property is being used in a reasonable manner. Citing the larger lot size, the use of the building as a garage, and the assurance from the property owners that the garage would not be used for commercial purposes, the commission ruled to approve and recommend the variance to the city council meeting on Monday, April 10. The commission also discussed a second garage variance, on a corner lot that bordered a township-managed road, and decided to contact the township regarding any particular setback requirements unique to the township.
The commission moved on to old business, making an official announcement of a meeting on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. regarding the creation of a new community center. Peterson cited a meeting from a few years ago where the Planning Commission was charged with leading the project, but noted that it “does not look good for the city to afford to build a new community center,” adding that an expense of that scale would have to go to a referendum. By working with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, the city is looking to field a committee to establish a community foundation in Houston. SMIF has a program specifically to help establish community foundations and grant opportunities available for community projects. Peterson mentioned that this plan has the blessing of the city council, and the public meeting will be the opportunity to explain the situation to the residents.
Next, the commission moved on to further discuss the inquiry related to the establishment of a meat locker within the city limits, something that had originally been brought up the previous month. The commission heard from several employees in the meat processing industry who gave a detailed overview of what exactly a future Houston meat locker could or couldn’t do in terms of regulation, safety, sales, production, processing, and the logistics of getting the animals and trucks in and out of town. In Houston, they explained, the animals would come directly to a chute which would send them to separate holding pens before entering an inspected area for slaughter and processing. The finished product, depending on the certification, could either be returned to farmers or customers, sent to stores, or sold in a storefront setting.
Administrator Peterson explained that the current zoning permits a meat locker within commercial zoning without any special conditions. “The discrepancy came in,” she continued, “with, okay, what is the true definition of ‘meat locker?’” The commission discussed making changes to the zoning law, requiring slaughter and processing be classified as industrial instead of commercial, meaning any possible future application would have to be located in the industrial zone and not the downtown commercial district. Peterson went on to say that she had discussed the issue with attorneys and state officials, and there is not a solid answer. Each conversation, she noted, said that it should go back to the commission for further public discussion. The commission fielded a few more additional questions from the audience, and Peterson stated that the only comments she had heard from the community was in regard to possibly posing competition to the Root River Market. Without extensive federal certification, the meat locker would be unable to sell retail in a capacity that would jeopardize the city’s grocery store.
Peterson concluded by urging the commission to give the issue further thought: “So, not tonight, but possibly in the future, you will be asked to make a recommendation to council as to where we would want this type of use to fit into our zoning.”
The Houston Planning and Zoning Commission will meet again at Houston City Hall at 5:30 p.m. on May 1, 2017.