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Council rezones part of Rushford downtown

Fri, Oct 17th, 2008
Posted in Government

Rushford - A zoning request approved by both the zoning appeals board and city council has paved the way for expanding the downtown business area for potential business growth around Rushford Foods.

In the aftermath of the 2007 flood in Rushford, amidst the devastation, there soon appeared many opportunities for change. At times, the possibilities seemed staggering. What will the future Rushford look like? What businesses will be here, and more important, where exactly will they be? While shortages of space and resources are occasionally an issue, a shortage of opinions is not.

It's no secret that a lot of the jawing on "main street" has centered around two philosophies: one is to expand the business district beyond the downtown area, specifically to the north side of town, where the possibilities of a motel, community center, additional housing and a hardware store have already materialized. Lack of space downtown for new projects and adequate parking is usually offered as rationale for expanding to the north.

The other opposing philosophy is to nurture and expand downtown-to keep as much business, and move as much new business into, the current downtown proper. Not surprisingly, the proponents of this philosophy tend to be those currently operating businesses in the downtown area.

A recurring and much debated issue has been the future location of Rushford Hardware. The owner, Greg Norstad, has made clear his own wish to move the store north of town to the area where a few FEMA trailers still remain, despite the expressed hopes of some that the store could stay downtown. Norstad has plans for an expanded store and garden center and concluded some time ago that there was no place large enough to accommodate his plans downtown.

As recently as September 2 of this year, Norstad made a request of the EDA to approve his purchase--"just in case"-- of land across the highway from his first location in the Himlie Business Park, as things were moving slowly to get his original location ready for building. But even this alternative location would have the store outside of downtown.

Against this backdrop has come a rezoning request from Rush Foods to have land surrounding the grocery store rezoned to "allow for higher density projects that could include a hardware store."

Rush Foods put in a request to the zoning board to have the area rezoned from Commercial Arterial to Central Business District. The area in question includes the actual store and parking lot of Rushford Foods, the lot to the south, and a lot to the south east currently zoned residential. Or, to use a legal description, Lots #1-6, Block 8, Stevens Addition. The property is all currently owned by Rush Foods, or there is a purchase agreement in place to acquire it.

The biggest issue is that land zoned as Central Business District has no set-back requirements while Commercial Arterial does, meaning a business can sit right up to the sidewalk or property line. Setback changes are possible in a Commercial Arterial zone through variance requests, but for Central Business District the variance request isn't necessary.

In a meeting at 4:45 p.m. October 14, the board of zoning appeals approved the request by Rush Foods and passed the request along to the city council at 6:30 the same day.

Administrator Windy Block gave a presentation in which he reviewed the procedure and reasons for making a zoning change. In his opinion, there was really not a reason for the rezoning unless the developer wished to include apartments in the development plan, as apartment buildings would require Central Business District zoning rather than Commercial Arterial.

When asked by mayor Les Ladewig to share his rationale for the request, Jim Hoiness of Rush Foods responded that his understanding is that CBD, in addition to the set-back difference, makes it more likely that planning boards would consider less restrictive parking requirements.

The mayor reminded the council that they were considering changing a zoning plan put in place in 1996-97 by people who put a lot of time and thought into the original plan. Ladewig advised the council "don't take that lightly."

Block pointed out that the record should reflect the proposal is seen as consistent with the comprehensive plan and was not considered to "endanger the vicinity,"-two facts determined by the zoning appeals board with the council would concur, if it granted the request.

After Robert Dahl made the motion and Larry Johnson offered a second, the council approved the request.

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