The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 15, 2013

Belle House appeal denied

North Mankato council again votes 3-2 to set aside request for two more occupants at halfway house

NORTH MANKATO – A halfway house for recovering alcoholics will not be able to increase its occupancy to eight, from six, the City Council decided on a 3-2 decision, its third vote on the matter.

The council heard a petition from the six female residents of the house – referred to as Jane Doe No. 1 through 6 – though owner Darcy Wennes and his attorney did most of the talking. Their request was made under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Last year’s petition, which was also voted down 3-2, was brought by Wennes himself. A separate request was also denied earlier this year to change the zoning at Belle House, located in Upper North Mankato at 2107 Northridge Drive.

The two-hour hearing began with a request from Wennes’ attorney, Paul Grabitske, for Councilman Billy Steiner to recuse himself and not vote on this matter.

During a June 17 meeting on how the request would be handled, Steiner said, according to a transcript provided by Grabitske: “Well my opinion is that we have done this before, and we did grant them three times the allotted number of individuals … I think that we made the decision at that time, and I would stand be what we – what we decided at that time.”

Grabitske said the law requires the council to be “fundamentally fair” and “impartial” for cases like this, and that wouldn’t be possible if Steiner had already made up his mind.

On instructions from City Attorney Mike Kennedy, the city clerk polled the councilors before the hearing began, asking them if they could put aside previous opinions and base their decision on the testimony. They each said they could.

Kennedy advised Steiner not to recuse himself, saying it would set a bad precedent.

Then the hearing started, and Grabitske tried to convince the council that the request to increase occupancy at Belle House by a third met the relevant legal standards.

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