By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER —
A North Mankato resident is appealing the City Council's recent approval of variances for the Marigold apartment project.
Barb Church filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Nicollet County court arguing the variances were granted in violation of state law and city code. The suit asks a judge to order the city to hand over the records it considered in the case and, after a hearing, nullify the variances.
The filing names the city of North Mankato, Marigold Apartments, developer Vanyo Moody and the North Mankato Port Authority. Because the City Council granted the variance, on a 3-2 vote, the city is at the heart of the case.
On March 18, the council approved several variances for the proposed 58-unit, four-story apartment complex. Variances are exceptions to law for specific projects.
Mayor Mark Dehen declined comment, saying the city's attorney should be the one to speak on the appeal.
City Attorney Mike Kennedy said the city has asked the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust to take the case. He said he believes the city has insurance coverage on variance issues, and expects to get confirmation on that point either today or Monday.
Kennedy said he's not familiar with how the district courts handle an appeal of variance law, but expects judges aren't eager to overrule City Council decisions.
Moody said he had two responses to the suit. First, he said, an appeal can be filed by any resident.
Second, he said he's planning on moving the southern lot line for the apartment complex. Therefore, he wouldn't need a variance for the building coming within 20 feet of the south lot line. He owns the property just south of the site.
Moody said he would still need two variances - one for coming too close to the eastern property line, near Highway 169, and the other for having a downtown apartment with more than 12 units.
The project hasn't yet been approved by the council and Kennedy suggested there¹s still time for the council to change its laws.
He's suggested in the past that the council could change its rules to allow downtown apartment buildings of this size, which would remove the need for a variance.
The appeal's initial filing does not specifically describe why the variance was improperly granted, but Church has repeatedly opposed the project at public meetings. She lives across the street from the proposed apartments,
and has said it doesn't meet the state's tests for variances, especially that the project must not "alter the essential character of the locality."
The Marigold site is bordered on the southwest by downtown businesses, and to the northwest by a neighborhood of single-family houses.
Opponents of the variances have also said they don't satisfy the two other parts of the state test, that the property must be used "in a reasonable manner" and that the "plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the landowner."
This story was edited to correct the following error:
North Mankato City Attorney Mike Kennedy did not say he did not understand variance law. He said he was not familiar with what the district court does in reaction to an appeal of variance law.