The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Business

January 21, 2014

N. Mankato passes downtown zoning overhaul

New rules to allow more types of development

NORTH MANKATO — The City Council approved a new zoning framework for downtown North Mankato that’s intended to spur development, including of apartment buildings, on a 3-1 vote Tuesday.

“It’s not about Marigold,” Mayor Mark Dehen said before voting in favor. “It’s about trying to make our city consistent with the code in surrounding communities, Mankato in particular …”

Nonetheless, that controversial apartment project was on several lips, if only as an example as the sort of high-density downtown development that can raise hackles. It required five variances that are now the subject of a lawsuit from nearby resident Barb Church.

“Historic downtowns allow moderate residential density,” Church said. “We shouldn’t be trying to wedge mega-projects on small plots of ground merely to collect more dollars.”

Still, as many people testified in support of the changes.

Belgrade Avenue resident Matthias Leyrer, a self-described student of new urbanism, suggested the city should encourage density to create a walkable community.

“We want dense development and the ability to leave our cars behind,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t want more apartment buildings downtown if they look like the current Marigold building, which he called a “hideous eyesore that doesn’t fit with the community.”

In addition to substantive criticism of the changes, there were also questions about timing — Why is a zoning change being contemplated while a comprehensive land use plan is being written?

“Why would the city want to ram these changes in now?” Belgrade Avenue resident Denny Savick said.

After eleven people testified, the discussion moved briefly to the City Council, where the opinions about downtown development have long been entrenched.

Councilwoman Diane Norland said the changes would help the city move ahead with the high-density housing it’s seeking for the Marigold site as well as accommodate similar projects atop the hill.

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