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Lanesboro City Council Report: A law lesson on “Reliance”

Fri, Nov 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

Anyone attending the November 3, 2003 Lanesboro City Council meeting got a law lesson from city attorney Tom Manion with an English lesson on the word “adjacent”, as well as a history lesson on Lanesboro city government thrown in. Hillcrest Gast Hus had requested a conditional use permit to convert from a two-bedroom bed and breakfast to a four-bedroom bed and breakfast (B&B). The Planning and Zoning Commission had held a public meeting and subsequently voted 5-1-1 to recommend the council authorize the permit.

The law required adjacent landowners be notified of such a meeting. The definition of adjacent was given as “abutting” the property. Adjacent landowners had been sent written notification of the conditional use permit meeting. Notices were also published in the paper and on the local TV channel. While some citizens were concerned that not enough of the neighbors had been contacted, the council was satisfied the law had been followed.

Neighbors Mark and Pat Hanson submitted letters giving the history of the B&B. Apparently, in 1997 former city administrator Stephen Sarvi made a mistake in telling the Frys they could operate a two-bedroom B&B in their home even though the home did not meet the criteria of being at least 75 years old. The Frys relied on this information and purchased the home. The council granted an exception because of the misunderstanding of the B&B ordinance and the reliance of the Frys on what was told them. In 2001 city administrator Barb Hoyhtya assured the Frys they could sell their property as a B&B. Mark and Pat Hanson urged the council in their letter to terminate the exemption for the two-bedroom B&B since the Frys were about to sell rather than granting a permit for a four-bedroom B&B.

City attorney Tom Manion stressed that reliance was an important element in this situation. Owners Paul and Carol Fry relied on information given to them by the city administrator when they purchased the property and developed it as a B&B. Now as they are ready to sell it to new owner Marv Eggert there is still an issue of reliance. If the property was no longer allowed to be a B&B, they would suffer financially. Eggert’s accepted offer on the property was made with reliance that this property was a B&B.

The council struggled with the problem, attempting to balance economics vs. quality of life; values in taxes vs. retaining residential property. They heard that the Planning and Zoning Commission had identified no significant traffic safety issues from the B&B (a daycare and triplex in the neighborhood cause more problems). There had been no police complaints on the property, and off-street parking for six was available.

An audience member reminded the council, “This is a tourist town.” To which councilman Halvorson replied, “Unfortunately!”

At this point, the question before the council was whether to grant the conditional use permit allowing the change to four bedrooms. If the council opted to deny the permit, they needed to give reasons why they did so. Manion advised the council they needed more reasons to say no than to say yes legally. The council chose to deny the permit with a three to two vote (Halvorson, Drake, and Rahn against; Hanson and O’Connor for).

Halvorson cited increased traffic in the area as his reason, saying, “With the topography of the land, it’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Drake said, “There’s a gap. It (the exception in 1997) should never have been issued in the first place and now it’s going from two to four?!”

Rahn stated he wanted more input from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Concerned about the possibility of this going to court, Councilwoman Peggy Hanson suggested inviting the entire neighborhood in to talk with the Commission and attempt to work out a solution. Although the council turned down the conditional use permit request, the Gast Hus can reapply at any time.

Police Contract

Matt Schultz, Preston’s Chief of Police, appeared before the Lanesboro City Council to answer their questions on the contract for Lanesboro/Preston shared police protection. Schultz gave the estimated startup cost as $65,000. This would include a portion of the cost of an additional squad car and equipment. The current Lanesboro police car would be used as well, with each officer having a squad car available for on-call.

Schultz informed the council the cost of police protection was broken down to a cost of $87.33 per individual in the two cities. This results in roughly a two-third/one-third split in cost between Preston and Lanesboro. After the initial startup, Lanesboro’s share for police protection would be $57,687 annually. According to Schultz, this would be a package deal and include court time for officers with no reduction in police patrol time. Winter-time coverage would be the same amount of patrolling, as Schultz noted, “Crime isn’t seasonal.” He went on to assure the council that additional presence would be available on summer weekends and during Buffalo Bill Days.

Chief Schultz said the Lanesboro coverage would be an “expansion of our patrol area,” adding that the police would be “in and out, back and forth between the two cities.” There will be no predictable set schedule, but there will be an officer on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The police office in Lanesboro would be used as a substation, with the police staff using computer and Internet access to generate reports. The files in Lanesboro would be gone through and unfinished items would be handled.

Chief Schultz stressed the fact that the Preston department has a “wonderful working relationship” with the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department and told the council that they take a proactive approach to their relationship with schools and students. Currently, there are no formal liaisons with the schools.

Preston would be the employer with Lanesboro contracting for police protection. As a result, Preston would have the responsibility of conducting employee reviews. Lanesboro would receive quarterly reports from the police chief on activity in the city. Lanesboro would also have representation on an advisory board for the police department.

Answering the question of how the department would reconnect with the citizens, Schultz replied, “Walk and talk; meet and greet the people.” He added that he already knew many of the citizens. Initially, complaints would be handled informally, but a form would be available from the city administrator for formal complaints also.

Schultz said the shared policing would benefit Preston by providing more daytime hours of police coverage He encouraged getting started as soon as possible for the benefit of the city of Lanesboro and informed the council he was going to try to speak to the Preston council that same night about the latest contract draft.

Other Business

In other business the council:

• heard the Public Utilities Commission will be paying the city an owed $50,000 before the end of the year;

• adopted the recommendation of the library board to increase a part-time library employee’s salary to bring her into alignment with the city’s current pay equity;

• approved the 70 foot by 8 foot fishing pier project to be constructed this fall by the DNR at Sylvan Park. The pier will have six high bumpers with no railing to obstruct the view and rise two feet out of the water. The only help needed from the city will be the use of the city-owned drill to install the main posts. Future maintenance will be taken care of by the DNR.

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