Township loosens building restrictions

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 4/18/01.

Frustration with the township's ordinance on accessory buildings, which many property owners and builders thought was too restrictive, poured out at a public hearing on Monday, April 9.

The hearing was held to gain input on the idea of loosening restrictions, and the public response was unanimous in saying they should, and only differed in the degree that it should.

In the end, the township board loosened the restrictions on accessory buildings more than they originally planned but not as much as some residents wanted.

Everyone these days has more toys to store, said township resident Keith Lang, who also has building experience. "Having a little bit more square footage, even for the small parcels, would be beneficial," he said.

The township ordinance started at 600 square feet for accessory buildings back in 1985.

For the past couple years, the limit has been 900 square feet for lots up to ten acres in size. At ten acres, the limit increased to 1,200 sq. ft. For each acre of land in the parcel beyond ten acres, an additional 120 sq. ft. could be added to the ordinance.

A theme at the hearing, attended by more than three dozen people, was that storage needs have increased with the profitable economy, as people have purchased more and more toys. Consequently, they need more room to store this stuff.

The board, after negotiations with the county, proposed increasing the limits by keeping the 900 sq. ft. limit on two-acre lots and bringing the 1,200 sq. ft. threshold down to five-acre lots, with 120 sq. ft. per acre extra after that.

Another suggestion by the board was to start with 900 sq. ft. at two acres and start using the 120 sq. ft. formula after that.

Dick Michaelis, a township resident and an owner of M & M Lumber, said the township has been too restrictive for accessory buildings for a few years. "I think you need to loosen up," he said.

"I think you're headed in the right direction," he added of the board's proposals. "I know you've got to have a some cap or some limits, but I think it's tight."

"Yes, we're listening. We want to make this better," said board chairman Don Pietsch. "But we don't want to blow the lid on this."

Audience proposals
Others were more blunt in calling the board's proposals for loosening the restrictions insufficient. "You're trying to cut off a dog's tail an inch at a time," said township resident Don Millner of the board's proposal.

"I guess I'm saying 120' isn't enough," agreed another township resident Wayne Jude. "You can't even back half a pick-up into that."

"I think it should be 300 sq. ft.," he said of the formula.

Pat Meagher, another township resident, made two recommendations: that setbacks should be raised on larger buildings and that the minimum size on a two-acre lot ought to be 1,200 sq. ft. Stricter setbacks would prevent someone from building a gigantic building right along the property line, which might block the view of a neighbor with a smaller lot.

A 30' by 40' accessory building is hardly excessive these days, Meagher said later. "Everybody has two cars, a boat, and a lawnmower. You need that much space," he explained.

Millner asked why the side heights on buildings were so low. The current township ordinance only allows 10' side walls for 900 sq. ft. buildings, and 12' side walls for 1,200 sq. ft. and more. This isn't high enough to park a motorhome inside a building, Millner said.

Making this change is more difficult because the county also uses these limits on the height of side walls. For the past year, the township has tried to work with the county in reconciling their ordinances to eliminate dual permitting, which forces property owners to get permits from both the township and the county.

This process has been difficult, said Pietsch, because the county has altered its ordinance a dozen times in the year since it took effect. The township board did indicate its intention to raise the matter with the county, using motorhomes as an example of the need.

Sue Johnson, who was caught in a snafu of dual permitting between the county and the township, thought the township should get out of the zoning business altogether and cede responsibility back to the county. "If it's good for the whole county, why isn't good for Paynesville?" she asked.

"It's not what the county wants or the township wants," added Millner. "It's what the people want."

Sore points
One sore point at the meeting was the board's tight stance on variances. "As most of you know, we've been pretty tough on variances," said Pietsch. "When you do it for one, it's difficult not to do it for everyone."

In following the letter of its ordinance, the board has tried to keep an eye on the future, when parcels in the township may become smaller and more numerous. Accessory buildings that might not seem excessive on the lots of today might be more of a problem if the township keeps increasing its residential development.

"How's that going to fit in with those after us?" asked John Atwood, a township supervisor.

"You wouldn't need a variance every time you turned around if your ordinance was adequate," said Jude.

"What the individual is doing is he's throwing his $100 away," he added of the board's tight stance on variance requests.

"We did take a pretty tough stand," answered Pietsch. "Maybe too tough."

Some other audience members wanted to know why their land had been zoned residential, when they would have preferred to have had it zoned ag, where the restrictions for livestock and building size aren't as tight.

"With our talks with the county, it's pretty easy to get residential to agriculture, but not the other way," answered Pietsch.

In other words, property owners can change their zoning to ag to ease the zoning restrictions, but might forfeit some development opportunities in doing so because returning it to residential may be difficult.

Changing to T-20, a transitional zone between ag and residential, should also be easy, Pietsch told the crowd.

Board decision
The board changed their ordinance to allow 900 sq. ft. for accessory buildings on lots up to one acre in size. Now the ordinance allows 1,200 sq. ft. for buildings on acres up to two acres in size.

For each acre above two, an additional 150 sq. ft. will be allowed in a sliding formula. (See the box on page 1 for a list of the new ordinance limits.)

The board also indicated it would discuss raising the side wall limits with the county and would examine its hard-line stance on variances.

The idea of raising setbacks on larger buildings while not put into the ordinance could be used as conditions should a variance be granted.

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