A requested zone change to make way for a row-home development in the Folwell neighborhood failed to receive support Wednesday.
Following nearly three hours of presentations, public input and discussion, the Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend denial of a request submitted by one of its members.
“This application is inappropriate for this particular property at this time,” said commission member Ian Lochridge.
Commission member Ben Kall, who is a real estate agent and property manager, sought the zoning change on two lots at the intersection of 14th Avenue and Sixth Street Southwest from single-family to the city’s newest multi-family zoning category, which allows development of a variety of housing types.
Due to a conflict of interest, Kall remained silent throughout the discussion, asking that Cyle Erie, of ISG Inc., speak on his behalf in presenting the request to the commission.
“We feel this will be a great asset to the neighborhood,” Erie said, noting the project has been in the works for two years, which was before Kall was seated on the commission.
Kall’s silence wasn’t enough for some of the 17 residents who spoke during the public hearing Wednesday.
“This is very clearly a conflict of interest, not just by Mr. Kall, but for the other people making the decision,” said Kai Miller, who lives across 14th Avenue from the property being discussed.
The commissioners denied any conflict or suggestion that they could not be impartial simply because they shared a volunteer position with Kall.
What happened: The Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend denial of a zoning change in the Folwell Neighborhood.
Why does this matter: The zoning change is being sought to build a set of 12 row homes, but neighbors opposed the change, citing a desire to preserve the area for single-family homes
What's next: The Rochester City Council is expected to make a final decision on May 17.
“I don’t know Mr. Kall, other than the short time we’ve been on the commission (together),” commission member Tom Hill said.
Hill said he sees the request as spot zoning, even though Rochester Community Development staff and Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos said it doesn’t match the legal definition.
Hill noted that neighbor Kevin Lund, a district court judge, disagreed with the staff opinion during his presentation on behalf of neighbors opposed to the change.
“This meets the classic definition of spot zoning,” Lund said.
Hill said the differing opinions were enough to raise uncertainty.
“You can tell the definition of spot zoning is somewhat subjective,” he said.
While the ruling wasn’t based on a specific design, commission members did cite concerns about the potential size of a project under the new zoning, which does not set a specific maximum number of units. Instead, it limits building heights, and requires specific setbacks and landscaping to limit what could be developed.
Kall presented a proposal that would include 12 row homes on the nearly half-acre combined lot during a neighborhood meeting, which had many neighbors concerned about density and traffic issues.
“There are other parts of the city that are zoned for this use,” neighbor Christel Richter said.
Commission member Maggie Brimijoin said she would support a zone change to add some density on the edge of the neighborhood, but the requested change would allow too much.
“I was very surprised when the proposal came through that it was 12 townhouses,” she said.
Commission Chairwoman Krystal Jorgenson said the requested zoning was intended for areas within walking distance to commercial areas, which would include Second Street Southwest near Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys Campus.
“That is in line with this project, in my opinion,” she said.
She was joined by commission member Kraig Durst in voting against recommending denial of the zoning change.
The commission’s recommendation for denial will be sent to the Rochester City Council, which will make a final decision on the zoning request. The council is expected to hold a May 17 public hearing on the issue.