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City talking about Condos

Fri, Feb 20th, 2009
Posted in Government

Preston - The owners of Corson Condominiums, formerly the Preston High and Elementary School, were present at the February 17 Preston City Council meeting. City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained that he had been approached late last year by Steve Corson with the Corson's goal of achieving a mixed zoning use for the facility including motel suites considered commercial use and apartments considered residential use.

The property is currently zoned R-3. The owners have sought the approval of the city council for a zoning classification that will show the State that the facility is in compliance with zoning laws. The Minnesota Department of Public Health inspects the facility on a regular basis and after a recent inspection questioned the appropriateness of the zoning classification. The matter needs to be cleared up in order to obtain the necessary licensing.

A two hour public hearing was held on January 21, 2009, at the Preston Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. The commission ultimately recommended that the city council approve the zoning classification change from R-3 to Institutional-Office-Residential (IOR) which is the same classification made to accommodate the facility that was the Preston nursing home. The commission also recommended approval of a Condition Use Permit (CUP) for use as an apartment building with the condition of two hard surface parking spots per unit to be completed by July 31, 2009. A second motel CUP was recommened with three conditions, including the parking requirements to comply with ordinance laws to be met by July 31, 2009, a verbal and written notice to guests of the off street parking, and limits to size and lighting of signage for the facility.

Hoffman noted that most concerns raised by neighbors involoved parking and storm water run off. Carlisle Corson added that the commission also recommended that a loading zone be established.

Council Questions and Remarks

Councilman Robert Sauer, who also sits on Planning Commission, said that the owners argued that the R-3 classification was appropriate because the property was a lodging house. He went on to say that if the state statute is stricter than ours, we use it as a reference. City Attorney Dwight Luhmann explained that when the state law is more restrictive, the city would need to abide by that law. Hoffman said that by the strictest interpretation of our ordinances, motel rooms with kitchens would not be permitted.

Councilman David Collett asked if the owners have been paying the lodging tax when operated as a hotel. Carlisle Corson responded that the lodging tax was paid.

Sauer stated that he voted to recommend the CUP's with great reservation. He maintained that the change to IOR classification is a better solution than R-3. It was suggested that a penalty could be levied as the facility has been operated with the mixed use prior to rezoning. Sauer maintained that the owners should have come to the commission prior to changing the use. He noted that the owners are attorneys and aware of the ordinances. Sauer recommended that if they allow the changes then any and all other applicants would need to be treated the same.

Mayor Kurt Reicks remarked that the main concern of the neighborhood was the parking. Hoffman said that mixed uses (commercial and residential) are generally not compatible. Carlisle Corson explained that the apartments would be in the back of the building and the motel rooms in the front. The owners want, however, to keep the number of motel units flexible depending on demand, but expect there to be twelve "lodging" units.

Hoffman asked the council to look at what is best for the city of Preston in deciding this issue. Reicks said that we need to do what we can to keep business here and support the community the best we can.

Steve Corson maintained that the zoning change to "IOR for the Nursing Home was aimed at bringing an old structure into a functional use."

Councilman David Harrison made a motion to rezone the property to IOR from R-3. The motion failed for lack of a second. Reicks asked what would be the next step. Hoffman said that in this case if the council wanted to deny the rezoning, a motion would have to be made to that end.

Corson Brother Comments

Steve Corson said that the city's ordinances aren't as clear as they should be. He again asserted that they feel that the R-3 classification is appropriate. He suggested that if the IOR classification were not approved, the city could order a "cease and desist." Corson warned that such an order could cause "serious ramifications" for everybody, suggesting that the case would go to court.

Hoffman responded, "We should get legal advice from our city attorney (Dwight Luhmann) instead of Mr. Corson."

Carlisle Corson insisted that the city needs the business and that during years of teaching, he has taught collaboration. He remarked that trust has been lost. Carlisle Corson insisted, "If the city council doesn't rebuild trust and get businesses, we'll be a retirement community," loosing young people.

Kirk Corson, Lino Lakes which is north of St. Paul, suggested that over a million dollars have been put into the building and now they just are trying to find a use for it. In remarks given to council members in writing, he said that the funding included a loan from the city of Preston and a cash infusion from the three Corson brothers.

The rehabilitation of the building built in 1922 has been ongoing over sixteen years.

Extension Decision

Mayor Reicks questioned why the Planning and Zoning recommendation was not followed. Sauer explained that he was concerned about orderly growth. He suggested that the council not make an order of denial for the rezoning, but take some time to consider the rezoning application. This would allow council members to look at the facility and the site. Reicks encouraged members to look at the site. The council approved an extension for up to thirty days.

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