Rushford Council considers zoning, floodplain mapping, UTV issues

By: 
Scott Bestul

The Rushford City Council had to pull out extra chairs to seat the citizens who appeared at the Oct. 28 meeting. Over a dozen Rushford residents appeared at the meeting and were largely focused on two agenda issues: the rezoning of the old R-P school building, and meetings regarding floodplain mapping.

School building rezoning

Prior to the city council meeting, the Board of Zoning Appeals met to consider the application by Well House Ministry to rezone the old R-P schools’ site from R1 (single family residence) to R3 [multi-family residential) status. Well House Ministry was also to submit a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application that would allow them to operate a health and medical institution and offer lodging or boarding services.

While the board brought a recommendation that the council adopt the re-zoning request, they did not feel Well House Ministry had enough information to complete the CUP request and chose not to act on that matter, and would consider that application at a later date.

After a motion to approve the zoning change was made by Councilor Ryman (and seconded), the matter was brought up for discussion. That’s when Rushford resident Steve Olson, who lives near the school, addressed the board. “The neighbors in the area would like this to remain single-family” he said. “We don’t want public housing.” Jackie Heiden, who also lives in the neighborhood, said, “I’ve worked in law enforcement for years, and have seen these types of areas; they can bring trouble. I’m not sure Rushford is a good fit, especially if there are other options.”

Though City Administrator Chladek cautioned the audience that “the only recommendation before the council is on zoning. The specifics of what Well House will do with the property would be covered in the CUP, which hasn’t been filed yet.”

Sherryl Bruner, director of Well House Ministry, then addressed the council regarding the upcoming CUP. “There’s been a lot of discussion of the facility being used as low-income housing,” she said. “Our intent is to look at affordability, and there’s a difference. Ideally, we’d be looking at tenants who would be held to expectations. In exchange for affordability, we’d be looking for renters who’d be expected to have accountability and goals, such as volunteering a certain number of hours at Grace Place, or other [venues]. If they didn’t meet those expectations they’d be out.”

Councilor Ryman noted that simply changing the zoning from R1 to R3 would not mean the council would cede any control over the specific use of the property. Councilor O’Donnell agreed and noted, “We’d have had to change the zoning no matter who bought it.”

Councilor Linder then noted an objection to the timing of the Zoning Appeals Board meeting, which occurs at 4:45 p.m., just prior to the regular council meeting. “It’s difficult for working people to attend those meetings,” he stressed. Mayor Hallum agreed and added, “There’s no time to review the minutes of the meetings, or any recommendations made. I like to have minutes to read and review, plus some time to consider the results, before taking any action.”

After some brief discussion about the timing of this meeting, the council voted on the motion to change the zoning of the property to R3. The motion passed, with Councilor Linder opposing.

Flood plain mapping work order

The city has hosted recent neighborhood meetings to answer questions from residents affected by re-drawn flood plain mapping. Clerk Zacher noted that during these meetings, “We were able to solve some of the least complicated cases,” mostly property owners filing Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) cases. Councilor Benson, who’d also attended the meetings, agreed and said, “Many people were filling out the paperwork themselves and working directly with FEMA.” Benson also noted that only four or five residents that she knew of had been contacted by their mortgage lenders about the need for increased flood plain insurance.

But a more recent meeting, which focused on homes in the Nannestad Lane neighborhood, was more complicated. Some of these landowners may have to file a Letter Of Map Removal (LOMR), which requires surveying and hydraulic analysis date to complete. This work must be done by professional surveyors, and Bolton & Menk engineer Derek Olinger had submitted a work order that would designate B&M as the company who would work for landowners interested in this process. As noted in previous meetings, the B&M fee could be shared by several landowners, with the per-owner cost dependent on how many homeowners were involved.

Area resident Dave Ansell addressed the council regarding this issue. Ansell, who owns a home in the affected area, had attended the most recent meeting. “I don’t know that there’s a hard number of homeowners established yet,” he said. “There are some financial concerns about the process for some. I know this probably can’t be answered tonight, but there were questions about whether the individual share could be done as an assessment to a homeowner’s tax bill. There are some who aren’t concerned about [paying] their share, but for others it’s a bigger deal. I can tell you there are people considering selling because of this issue.”

Clerk Zacher noted, “I don’t think we can make such a fee part of our assessment, because there are statutory rules governing what we can assess for.” City Administrator Chladek said, “I think the main point of this is, are there creative ways that we can address this and solve some of these issues, and that’s good. This meeting isn’t the venue for that, however.”

After some discussion, Councilor Ryman moved to approve the work order for Bolton & Menk, and the motion carried. Following the motion, Mayor Hallum said, “I just want to express my annoyance at having to do all this work to be in compliance, and now this. I want to express my sympathy to the public for having to go through this.”

City Administrator Chladek praised the council for their efforts in assisting residents affected by the new FEMA-generated maps. “Kudos to the council for setting up and running these meetings, and for offering assistance to homeowners affected by this process,” he said. “You didn’t have to do this, and I can assure you, many cities don’t.” Informational meetings hosted by the city allowed residents to investigate all possible options, including preferred rates they could investigate. And homeowners without a mortgage would have been unprepared when trying to sell their home with a flood risk designation that didn't exist before.

ATV/UTV ordinance

The final item on the general business agenda was a review of material supplied by the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) regarding the use of Utility Task Vehicles (UTV’s) and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s) for cities considering ordinances regarding their use. While such vehicles are currently not allowed within city limits, the council has heard interested citizens wanting the law changed.

In the discussion that followed, Councilor Linder was the strongest advocate for changing the statute. “We’re the ones losing the revenue,” he said, referring to UTV groups that tour between towns to visit, shop, eat and buy gasoline. “You can use them on township roads in Winona County. I don’t think you’re going to see the issues you think you will.”

Councilor Benson responded, “the biggest concerns I have are noise and safety,” she said. “We have three state highways that run through town, so our situation is a little unique.” Councilor Ryman noted, “I’ve talked to probably 12 people about this issue, and the response I get is either ‘Yes’ or ‘I don’t care.’”

Enforcement of a new law, should it be enacted, would fall at least partly upon Conservation Officer Mitch Boyum, who lives in St. Charles; a town that allows ATV/UTV use within city limits. Councilors agreed that a visit from Boyum, and potentially Fillmore County Sheriff DeGeorge, would be valuable in deciding whether to change existing statutes. Councilor O’Donnell noted that he’d also like to review the Winona County ordinance and see if a similar rule could be adopted here.

While the council took no action, they agreed to continue to examine the issue in future meetings. “I think it’s important that we keep moving forward on this, but it’s not something we need to act on quickly,” said Councilor Ryman.

Schedule

The next meeting of the Rushford City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 12 (moved one weekday due to Veteran’s Day) at 6:30 p.m. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.

(Note: The original version of this story misidentified the owner of the Rushford-Peterson school buildings in Rushford. The organization is named Well House Ministry.)