The City of Houston, Minn., Planning Commission met at 5:30 p.m. on Monday March 6, 2017 at Houston City Hall. Present at the meeting were commission members Krin Abraham, Cheryl Sanden, Jim Edwards, Houston City Council member Emily Krage, Houston City Deputy Clerk Audrey Hegland and Houston City Administrator Chris Peterson. Also in attendance was Stacy Vix in regard to a variance request at the 109 E. Elm St. property.
The meeting began with old business, looking at the Elm St. property. Vix has requested to install a concrete pad and carport structure on the front of her house. In previous meetings, the suggestion has been to attempt to put the ten foot wide concrete pad around the back of the house to avoid an aesthetic issue and possible conflict with city ordinances on driveways and garages. Upon further inspection, the property line appears to be very close to ten feet exactly from the rear of the house. The commission tries to avoid enacting a full survey of a property for something like a variance request, to limit the expense on the homeowner. Because the option to install the carport at the back of the house was not, in the words of Administrator Peterson, a “slam dunk,” Vix returned to the commission to request a variance to build out front after the city council did not act on the previous information.
The house is on a lot that was split many years ago and as such cannot fit the carport in the back of the house without crossing over a nearby property line when the car doors are open. The commission reviewed the information, citing the necessity of the carport in the front of the house and the distinction between a carport and garage structure, which would require additional construction, a zoning permit, and aesthetic concerns. The commission discussed that the structure without a car would be seen as something more like a covered patio, and made sure to stress that the structure could not be used for storage like a garage. With the lot currently having a deck structure that sticks out farther than the proposed carport, the commission decided to recommend the carport request to move forward to the Houston City Council meeting on March 13, with the stipulation that it could not be used for storage other than car storage. Additionally, any further construction would have to be approved, including future enclosing of the structure as a more traditional garage. The motion passed unanimously.
The commission then moved on to new business, discussing the possible availability and purchase of two parcels of land for OHV, or off-highway-vehicles. The two parcels measure 90 and 120 acres respectively and are both located south of the city. City Administrator Peterson described the situation as a “big what-if,” saying the owner of both parcels has expressed a possible desire to sell, starting with the 90-acre parcel. The acquiring of the OHV land would be done through a DNR grant that would involve reimbursement for the city. The commission responded with caution, asking if access would be provided between the two separate parcels, and suggested the purchase of the 90 acres be conditional on an option for the 120-acre parcel to fit all the OHV needs. Peterson responded that adding an option with the DNR can be “tricky.” The discussion ultimately led Peterson to seek more investigation into the issue before ordering an appraisal.
Next, the commission looked into a possible request to allow for a meat locker and butcher shop to set up operations within the city. The business has been looking at a location near the AcenTek building, and is looking to involve all steps in the process of meat processing, production, and retail. Peterson cited the zoning code of permitted commercial uses within the city, which allows the establishment of “meat lockers.” The commission debated the definition of meat locker as opposed to slaughter, processing, or retail, citing local examples in Eitzen, Winona, and Waukon, Iowa. After seeking legal counsel to confirm a definition and permissions, Peterson said that the city might have the option to change the zoning code for a conditional allowance, which would open the debate to the public. The debate came down a question of definition in the zoning code, what that might entail if the business was allowed, and what that might mean for the citizens of Houston. The commission agreed that bringing new business to the city was important, and resolved to investigate the issue further, involving both the city attorney and attorneys from the League of Minnesota Cities.
The Houston City Planning Commission will meet again on Monday, April 3, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. at Houston City Hall.