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Lanesboro City Council, citizens discuss Bunge's request

Fri, Jun 26th, 2009
Posted in Government

Several Lanesboro residents turned out for the public hearing with questions and concerns on June 22. Andy and Eric Bunge of Bunge Construction have requested a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for property they own downtown.

The Bunges would like to utilize the lot that has been empty since the fire burned down the building seven years ago. Their idea is to have an "open air" market, a place where vendors can set up and sell arts and crafts, have flea markets, music, and sell food.

The Planning and Zoning ordinance requires that there be a permanent structure, so they have applied for the CUP. They had previously met with the Planning and Zoning Commission twice to go over the stipulations that would be required if they received the permit. The EDA (Economic Development Authority) gave their recommendation to approve the CUP, and Planning and Zoning approved with the stipulations.

Eric Bunge spoke to the council and the audience, explaining their purpose. "Vendors could set up on a temporary basis with either a small booth or a large tent," he said. "We just want to utilize the space and beautify the area."

The stipulations put on the market, that the Bunges agreed upon, included having events be temporary. This means that they will go from one day up to no more than five days. There will be one day a week the lot is empty. The stands or tents will be taken down after every event. There will be no more than one flea market/garage sale type event in a month. There will also be only one food event a month, and it will be locally sponsored. An area in the back of the property will be used for loading and unloading. Hours of operation will be from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. from roughly May 1 through October 31. Events will work with, not compete against, other events like Buffalo Bill Days and Art in the Park. The permit will be looked at in a year to see how things are going, and it can be revoked at any time by the council.

Council member Joe O'Connor asked City Attorney Tom Manion about the city's current noise ordinances and nuisance ordinances, if they would be adequate. Manion replied they may need to be looked at again, since this is a unique situation.

O'Connor also asked Bunge if other cities in the Midwest have done anything like this. Bunge mentioned Rochester's Thursdays on First. Since Rochester has started having vendors and other things on First Avenue, businesses in downtown Rochester have seen a major difference.

Council member Ceil Anderson asked the Bunges if there was a plan for a long-term structure in the near future. Bunge replied that they have had nobody coming to them looking for a building. "We don't want to take the risk of building and wonder if someone's going to come along," he said.

Although the Bunges feel that a permanent structure would be ideal, it is not currently feasible. Bunge added that when they purchased the lot in 2007, things were different. "We had a plan," he said. "We hoped that things would go well and we would build things up like they had been before the fire. But things fell apart for the economy."

There were no audience members that spoke out for the permit, however several had questions and concerns. Butch Culbertson had concerns that it would create a burden on parking, traffic, and other businesses in the area. He was also under the belief that there were not supposed to be any portable food vendors, as he had tried to do that before with a popcorn stand.

A few business owners near the lot said they needed some time to look over the plans some more before deciding. Kristin Mensing, who owns the Scanlon House, said her father, Gene was not allowed to store bikes and canoes on the empty spot for many years. Gene Mensing owns the Little River General Store. Manion explained that at the time, they had applied for an accessory use for the property, since they did not own the lot. Mensing said they had a gazebo on the property and were told by the city to remove it. "If people complained about a gazebo and some canoes and bikes, imagine what they will complain about with a tent, a flea market and port-a-potties," she said.

City Administrator Bobbie Vickerman read a few letters she had received from people who were unable to attend the meeting. Ace Telephone, which is next to the property, simply requested that their rear entrance never be blocked. Sara Decker, Marlin Miner and John Davis all wrote letters against the issuance of the CUP.

After the Public Hearing, Bunge again spoke. He mentioned the fact that Art in the Park had to be held in the downtown area last year due to the flooding, and this helped local businesses tremendously by bringing in the foot traffic. That is when they first came up with the idea of having something like this downtown.

"It's a leap of faith by the council," admitted Bunge. "We don't know what will happen. The only alternative for us is to use the space to park our equipment, and I don't think that's a better option."

Bunge said that although they are taking a risk, they think it will be an enhancement to downtown area. "We don't know unless we try," he said.

Andy Bunge said that he thinks of it as a partnership with the businesses in the area, which can all use the space if they want. It will also help bring in some foot traffic to the businesses in the area.

The question was brought up about how this fits into the Lanesboro 20/20 plans for the future. O'Connor, who was part of the writing team for the plan, said the goal is to maintain and enhance Lanesboro, as well as support the development of new businesses and maintain current businesses. He felt the market fit into the plan in that aspect.

Anderson agreed that the market can be a positive thing. "Local industry and business would have a place they might not otherwise have," she said. "But I am concerned about the precedent we are setting if we allow it."

Manion stated that it's more about what kind of precedent they set. If it's compatible with downtown, and they follow the rules set up, it could be a good thing. "It won't be anything goes after this," he said.

Mayor Steve Rahn agreed. "There's nothing wrong with having controversy in Lanesboro," he said. "How else can a city grow? I remember when there was controversy about the trail coming in."

Rahn said it would be an experiment to see how it goes, and if it helps the city. The council felt they should table the decision until the next meeting on July 6, so they have time to look over the 20/20 plans, and the business owners can look over the details and get their questions answered.

Other Business

Speaking for the Park Board, Mayor Rahn said they are looking at taking reservations for camping sites as a way to make some revenue. They will begin that next spring. They are still looking for a board member. The council approved a bid for putting in new tile in the men's bathroom at the Community Center, as well as the hallway. Chris McCormick will be putting in the tile for $880, which is just the cost of labor.

The council also approved a Revolving Loan for $15,000 for Stone Mill Suites. The loan will be used to replace the A/C and heating units in the rooms. It is a five-year loan with interest that will go back into the Revolving Loan Fund.

Vickerman updated the council on the legislative decisions about the budget. She said so far, Lanesboro will not be seeing any cuts in their LGA (Local Government Aid) from the state in 2009 or 2010. The final decision will come on July 1.

Vickerman also thanked the people involved in planting the flowers near the Community Center; Eric Gierke for the dirt, Maggie Molyneaux, Brian Luna and the Girl Scouts for doing the work, and the Fire Department and Legion for donating money for the project.

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