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Paynesville Press - November 24, 2004

Zoning dispute arises in Union Grove Township

By Michael Jacobson and Bonnie Jo Hanson

A moratorium on platting and an interim zoning ordinance in Union Grove Township have sparked a zoning dispute between the township board and a local developer. The two sides, along with their supporters, sparred last week at a public hearing to discuss the township's interim zoning ordinance.

Dan Binsfeld of Paynesville has purchased a 30-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Highway 4 and Co. Rd. 20 in Union Grove Township, which he wants to plat into 10 lots (plus the existing home). He believes the moratorium on platting and the interim ordinance in Union Grove Township unfairly targets his development.

zoning Township officials, Binsfeld said, misled him by telling him to go to the county for platting and zoning. Meeker County did approve rezoning the parcel from agriculture to R-2 - meaning two-acre residential lots - on Tuesday, Nov. 16, but in the meantime Union Grove Township enacted a moratorium on platting.

Dan Binsfeld of Paynesville wants to plat this 30-acre property near the intersection of Highway 4 and Co. Rd. 20 in Union Grove Township, but he faces a township moratorium on platting that could last until September 2005 or until the township creates a zoning ordinance.

Township clerk Loren Pearson said at the township's public hearing - also on Tuesday, Nov. 16 - that the county misled the township, which was not aware that it could have a more restrictive zoning ordinance. Stearns County has R-5 (five-acre lots) and R-10 (10-acre lots) zoning. Union Grove Township is primarily rural, and the board's consensus is to keep it that way, according to Pearson.

Pearson said the township doesn't want to take over all zoning. The board just thinks that Meeker County does not have enough zoning options, he said. Stearns County is a better model because they have more options, and Union Grove Township can change its ordinance to be more restrictive than the county ordinance, such as requiring five-acre lots.

The interim ordinance - approved by the township board in October - prohibits the following land uses: residential subdivisions with lots of less than five acres per lot; any junkyard or salvage yard with more than six unlicensed motor vehicles; any industrial facility for storage of hazardous waste or demolition of waste; any commerical or industrial tire recycling facility capable of processing more than one ton of tires per day; and any new gravel pit or rock quarry exceeding 20 acres in size for commercial purposes.

Developments whose preliminary plans have been approved by the county already are exempted by this interim ordinance, which also delineates enforcement procedures, including how the township can halt any work done in violation of it.

This moratorium will last until Union Grove Township adopts a zoning ordinance or until Sept. 20, 2005, whichever comes first.

The township needs time to research zoning issues, consult with Meeker County, and write a zoning ordinance, according to Pearson. The township board would like to be done "as quickly as possible," certainly before September 2005, said Pearson, but they also want to do it right, since decisions made now will affect the township for the next 20 years. The board is pro-development, Pearson added, but they need time to study their zoning options.

At the township's public hearing last week, views differed on zoning, with Binfeld's supporters believing he was being unfairly targeted while other township residents, especially neighboring landowners, backing the board's efforts to keep the township's rural character.

Binsfeld explained at the hearing that he believes that the moratorium was directed at him because it was put into place right around the time he was closing on the property. He wouldn't have bought the property, he added, if he had known he would need to fight to develop it. Terry Thomsen and John VanderBeek Jr., who both live near Binsfeld's proposed development, were among the township residents who wanted the township board to protect the rural character of the township and supported five-acre, or even ten-acre minimim lot sizes.

Binsfeld's supporters countered that some people can't afford large lots, that people don't always want big lots (more mowing, for instance), and that the area needs affordable housing for young families.

Binsfeld believes he should be grandfathered from the moratorium and from a more restrictive zoning ordinance (if it passes) because he had already begun the process when the moratorium was passed.

Binsfeld feels like the moratorium and the interim ordinance target his proposed development, and he has land costs, engineering fees, and survey costs already invested.

If the township does not exempt his proposed development, Binsfeld has not ruled out taking legal action.

Under the county's comprehensive plan, Binsfeld noted at the public hearing, his property is R-2.

Rezoning for the 30-acre parcel, from agriculture to R-2, was unanimously recommended by the Meeker County Planning Commission in October. It was tabled by the Meeker County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 2, but was approved 4-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Only commissioner Ron Kutzke, who represents Union Grove Township, voted against the rezoning at this last meeting.

Towards the end of the township's public hearing, both sides did agree that growth is coming to Union Grove Township, which currently has about 600 residents, and that the township needs to be ready.

Mary Hahn, who owns property in the township near the proposed development suggested that the township develop a comprehensive plan that could identify areas suitable for dense population.

The city of Paynesville updated its comprehensive plan in 2002-03, creating a future land use map that attempts to identify appropriate areas for future development.

Most of the residents agreed that Union Grove Township needs a plan for growth. The comprehensive plan for Meeker County is eight to ten years old, said board chairman Rick Thompson.

It was suggested at the public hearing that since only two dozen people were in attendance, the township should get input from the rest of the township residents. Pearson said a mail survey could be possible because of the small number of households in the township.

A decision about zoning was not made by the township board at the hearing. Since the moratorium does not expire for almost a year, the township has time to make a decision, but one needs to be made, said Thompson.

"This isn't a problem that can be solved in one hour on a Tuesday night in Union Grove Township," added Pearson.

The Union Grove Township Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss zoning and their options again at the next regular board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m.

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