The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 13, 2012

Marigold dealt a blow by Planning Commission

Group recommends denial of variances

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — The proposed six-story, 108-unit Marigold apartment project suffered a blow when the North Mankato Planning Commission soundly recommended against granting variances.

The North Mankato City Council, which considers the project Monday night, will have to decide whether to follow the commission’s recommendation.

City staff also indicated that the developer has not yet submitted a financing commitment letter from a bank.

The $17 million project, proposed by Van Moody, needs several variances as it does not conform to existing building and planning codes because it is a residential project.

For most commercial buildings in the downtown, there are no setback requirements, meaning they can be built up to the sidewalk. If an office tower or hotel would be built on the same scale and footprint as the proposed Marigold, it would not need variances.   

But because the Marigold 2 project is for apartments, residential zoning rules apply.

Under those rules, the Marigold would need a lot nearly three times the size available. The code says apartment buildings can have no more than 12 units per  structure — Marigold would have 108 units. And an apartment building also needs to have setbacks from the street and side boundaries.

When considering the variance request at its meeting Thursday night, the planning commission followed state guidelines on when variances can or should be allowed. According to those guidelines, variances should not be granted if the project alters the central character of the area. And the guidelines say a variance can be granted if there is a peculiarity to the land that makes it impossible for a developer to follow existing zoning rules.

Several commissioners, and residents who spoke against the project, said there is nothing peculiar about the lot. Instead, they said, the developer argues the project needs to be larger than permitted for it to be economically viable. That, they said, is not a reason to grant a variance under state guidelines.

Several commissioners also said they believed the large project would alter the character of the area.

“There’s no one in this room who doesn’t yearn to see that property developed But we should do it right,” said commissioner Mike Smith. The project would be built off of Belgrade Avenue in lower North Mankato.

Commissioner Stephanie Stoffel noted the city has no comprehensive plan for development for the downtown, which made it even more difficult to justify approving a variance for a project that doesn’t fit the city’s current zoning rules.

Several residents said the Marigold project should be halted until a new city administrator comes on board soon and can work with the council on creating a comprehensive development plan for the city.

Some commissioners and residents also questioned why neither the developer nor a representative of the developer attended the public hearing to make the case for variance and answer questions.