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Folwell zone change for rowhome project gets commission nod

Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-2 to recommend approval for new zoning to clear way for planned construction of 12 housing units, following court decision that led developer to restart the application process.

Folwell rowhome site.JPG
Property at 533 14th Avenue SW has been cleared for planned construction of 12 rowhomes. The Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-2 Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, to recommend approval of a zone change needed for the project.
Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Nearly 17 months after the Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denying a zoning change for the development of a rowhome project in the Folwell Neighborhood, the current commission, with a largely changed composition, disagreed.

“We, as a current board and previous boards, have outlined what we would like applicants to do in order to come forward with developments, and I do believe that at this time this applicant is meeting all the outlined criteria,” Commission Chairwoman Krystal Jorgenson said.

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Six of the current nine commission members joined after the initial 2021 recommendation was made.

The zone change returned to the commission Wednesday after an earlier approval by the Rochester City Council was overturned in court when a judge determined the city failed to follow defined procedures.

Susan Wescott, whose property abuts the proposed development, raised the court decision in her continued objection to the proposed project, which seeks to create 12 housing units on the 0.44-acre property at the intersection of Sixth Street and 14th Avenue Southwest.

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“There have been many oversights,” she said, as one of six neighbors that voiced objections to the proposed zone change during Wednesday’s public hearing.

The neighbors cited concerns about increased traffic, the potential changing the nature of the neighborhood and how the site has been maintained since it was cleared for planned construction after the council decision.

“Clearly, more city-led work needs to happen between the city, the neighborhood and the developer to decide how to deal with a now-vacant land,” neighborhood resident James Neal told the commission.

Commission member Randy Schubring cited disappointment that the proposed development has remained largely unchanged, rather than finding potential changes that could meet with neighborhood approval.

“There should be opportunities to find some balance with the neighborhood,” he said before joining the 7-2 vote to recommend the City Council approve the zoning change.

While the majority of commissioners also supported the proposed change, several questioned whether the proposed project was a good fit.

“It would be nice to think that this would be a model project for a neighborhood,” said commission member Maggie Brimijoin, who suggested reducing the housing density would be a better approach.

Developer Ben Kall said he stood by the original plan, since the issue that led to the zone-change reversal was related to city procedure, rather than elements of the proposed project. He pointed out that Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Troy Timmerman dismissed most of the neighbors’ claims when they filed a Aug. 13, 2021, lawsuit to block the zone change.

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“It is personally comforting to know that all concerns raised have had the chance to be heard and acknowledged in both the public forum and court of law, and now we can move forward being sure there are no legal concerns outstanding,” he said.

The court decision prompted Kall to restart the process in an effort to overcome the procedural error that occurred between the commission’s recommendation and the Rochester City Council decision to approve the change.

With its recommendation for approval, the commission also approved a memo to outline its decision to support the zone change. The memo, signed by Jorgenson, will be sent to the City Council prior to its Oct. 3 meeting, which is expected to include another public hearing on the proposed zoning change.

Allison Sosa, Rochester’s Community Development planning supervisor, told the commission the memo is a unique step to address the judge’s court ruling. She said the overturned process held to the same standards used when other commission recommendations have been sent to the council.

“Even though there was perceived oversight by the court, I would be very clear that the process is the same exact zone change the city of Rochester has gone through in at least the last six years, if not longer than that,” she said, pointing out that the city’s newly approved unified development code has been written to better define the practice used for commission recommendations to the council.



Timeline

March 25, 2021 – Developer Ben Kall holds an online community meeting to present the rowhome project proposed for the intersection of 14th Avenue and Sixth Street Southwest.

April 1, 2021 – A request to rezone the two parcels for the development is received by Rochester’s Community Development Department, which later recommends approval of the change.

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April 28, 2021 – Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission votes 4-2 to recommend denial of the requested zoning change.

May 17, 2021 – Rochester City Council votes 4-3 to approve the zoning change.

June 24, 2021 – A site development plan for the project is logged as received by the Community Development staff.

July 8, 2021 – A request to combine the two properties into a single parcel is fouled with the city.

July 23, 2021 – A demolition permit for the existing home of the property is approved, giving the developer until Jan. 19 to remove the building

Aug. 2, 2021 – The Rochester City Council votes 6-1 to approve creating a single parcel from the two lots.

Aug. 13, 2021 – Six neighbors file a complaint in Olmsted County District Court to seek reversal of the council’s zoning decision.

Sept. 3, 2021 – Attorneys for the city file a response to the complaint.

April 12, 2022 – Judge Troy Timmerman hears arguments from attorneys representing both sides of the issue.

June 15, 2022 – Timmerman files his judgment, which voids the zone change but upholds other aspects of the original complaint.

July 27, 2022 – New request for zoning change is filed.

Sept. 14, 2022 – The Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-2 to recommend approval of the zoning change.


What happened: The Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-2 to recommend approval of a zoning change for a rowhome project planned in the Folwell Neighborhood.

Why does this matter: The zoning change was approved the change last year, but neighbors filed a lawsuit that led to it being overturned in court due to a procedural error.

What's next: The recommendation will be sent to the Rochester City Council, which is slated to make a decision on the zoning request after a public hearing during its Oct. 3 meeting.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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