NORTH MANKATO —
The third part of the test is that variances aren't allowed if they would "alter the essential character of the locality."
The LMC guide suggests a city council (or board of adjustment), when looking at the "essential character" part of the test, "consider whether the resulting structure will be out of scale, out of place, or otherwise inconsistent with the surrounding area."
Whether the Marigold project clears this hurdle has been debated at recent North Mankato council meetings, and it sometimes appears that the opposing opinions literally reflect different viewpoints.
People looking to the north and northwest from the vacant gravel lot see a working-class neighborhood of single-family homes with small yards and large trees. A four-story, 58-unit apartment building, opponents say, would obviously alter the character of a traditional residential neighborhood.
People looking south see a small-town business district with one and two-story shops, offices and eating and drinking establishments. Opponents and supporters of the apartment building strongly disagree about whether the building does or doesn't fit with the character of the Belgrade Avenue business district.
Moody has also asked the council to look to the east side of the lot, where a fence blocks an expressway off-ramp, suggesting that the "essential character" of this particular locality is almost impossible to label.
Bottom line for the city council members? They will be tasked with going beyond the traditional conflicting roles of elected officials of being a delegate or a trustee.
When it comes to variances, the LMC warns council members that being a delegate -- someone who simply reflects the will of the majority of his or her constituents -- doesn't work: "If neighborhood opinion is a significant basis for the variance decision, the decision could be overturned by a court."
Just being a trustee -- an elected official who simply judges what's best for the city and its future, regardless of public opinion -- won't cut it either under variance law. The council's decision on whether or not to grant the variances has to be in accord with the law, and the LMC advises a city council to document that in a very lawyerly way -- listing the relevant facts and conclusions as to how and why each of the three Òpractical difficulties' factors were or were not met.