City sees obstacle with variances

BLUE EARTH – A Blue Earth official says some homeowners are upset because the city doesn’t seem to be granting variances for construction on residential property.

Dan Brod brought the matter to the attention of his fellow City Council members on Monday.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey said one variance has been granted in the past six months.

Mayor Rick Scholtes said wording of the ordinance seems to make it impossible to grant a variance.

“People want to improve their property but we’re hand-cuffing them,” Brod said. “They need the flexibility to improve their properties.”

“There’s always been the ability to request a variance,” said City Attorney David Frundt, but because state standards have gotten tougher, it is more difficult to get one.

“You can have a variance, but you have to justify the reasons for that variance,” he said.

Brod and Frundt had an intense debate about what the city can do, what the Legislature won’t allow, the rules property owners have to follow to get a variance, and what can be challenged in court.

Scholtes doesn’t like the situation as it stands.

“We’re discouraging people from doing stuff in our town,” he said, fearing residents will stop improving their properties.

Frundt said the change comes through voting:?either legislators changing how they vote, or citizens voting to change the legislators.

In other business, the council heard from Cindy Lyon, director of the Chamber of Commerce. She opened discussion about expanding the Chamber and Visitors Bureau and moving both to Giant Park. Lyon envisions a new building that would house both, as well as different museums and collections.

Lyon said 3,000 people signed the guest registry from Memorial Day to Labor Day 2012 at Giant Park, and that’s a low estimate, because not everyone signs.

“I think we’re missing one of the biggest opportunities this city could have,” said Councilman John Huisman.

“It’s a great tourist attraction for our community,” Scholtes agreed.

“I’m concerned we’re biting off more than we can handle,” said Councilman Glenn Gaylord, who worries about what it will cost to fix up the buildings. “We might not be able to afford this for a few years.”

Gaylord did say Giant Park is a good location from which to promote the community. He wants to move the Chamber to Giant Park first, then move other entities in stages, instead of everything all at once.

Scholtes wants to put together a committee to work with Lyon to find out what is needed and how it can be done.

Turning to another matter, the council revisited the city kennel lease. Russ Erichsrud reported he has met with the Faribault County Humane Society board about the lease the council had approved last month.

Erichsrud said the Humane Society wants to meet with him, Bailey and Scholtes about the lease.

“It’s a matter of wording,” he said.

Erichsrud also mentioned a new animal control officer should be found to replace Todd Heenan, who resigned this summer.

Scholtes said he would meet with surrounding communities, and he instructed Bailey to place an ad for an animal control officer to serve the whole area.