The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 17, 2013

Belle House owner seeks zoning change

Change would allow eight clients, up from six, to live in group home

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — Last fall, Darcy Wennes asked the North Mankato City Council to allow up to eight unrelated people, instead of the usual six, to live in his group home for women recovering from addiction.

The council denied that request, and now he’s asking the city to do essentially the same thing by re-zoning his property to a higher density, which would allow it to be used as a duplex.

That would, the city says, allow six people in each unit. But Wennes said his county permit limits him to a total of eight occupants based on the size of the house.

City staff are recommending denial of the request because they say it does not meet a three-part test set up by the city in 2005, when it re-zoned his home and others across the city to a lower density.

While the city says the first two conditions for the re-zoning are met — it was originally permitted as a duplex, and located in a district that allowed this use — it fails the third test because it wasn’t continually used as a multiple-family dwelling.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday evening to not allow the re-zoning.

Wennes said the house was built as a single-family dwelling in 1980, but was converted into a duplex that same year. It was bought in 1983 and functioned as a duplex for 15 years, until 1998, when it began to be occupied by a single family.

It eventually went into foreclosure, and Wennes bought it in 2012, at the time assuming he could use it as a duplex.

Wennes acknowledges his re-zoning request fails that third test — it was obviously used as a single-family home for a time.

But he’s asking the council to set aside that rule, in light of the home’s history of being used as duplex.

“My contention is, why should I be punished if a few previous owners decided not to use as a duplex?” he said. “Everybody that’s ever been there agrees that it’s a duplex. It’s also not in contention that I’m currently using it as a duplex.”

Wennes also said he’s losing money by having only six women live in the house

“I was doing that basically in the hopes to try to find a way, a simple way, to get the R2 (higher-density zoning) status just to fill my last two beds. That’s it,” he said.

The City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Mankato Municipal Building.