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City rethinks rules for condo area (04/24/2013)
By Chris Rogers

The city of Winona is wasting no time as it moves to revise the rules for a uniquely unrestrictive zoning district that includes the McNally condominium and adjacent properties. City staff had concerns about parking and density issues that potential development, such as a high-density residential complex, might cause following conversations with River Bank of La Crosse, who recently foreclosed on the property and began marketing it. Those concerns led to a moratorium on any new development and a request for a study of possible changes to parking and density rules.

The Planning Commission began its reexamination of the B-2.5 zoning district Monday. City staff called for a decision "as quickly as possible" and a narrow focus for potential changes.

"We don't have a lot of time to discuss it. That's by design. We don't want to make this an all-inclusive discussion; we think the problems here are parking and density issues," explained City Planner Mark Moeller.

Commissioner LaVerne Olson said that the committee should be taking a broader look at what to do with the B-2.5 district and scrapping it should be an option.

"The B-2.5 [district] really hasn't done anything. The only person who has taken advantage of it or tried to take advantage of it is Mr. McNally," Olson said to his fellow commissioners. "Maybe we need to look at the whole B-2.5 [district] and think about amending it or get rid of it."

In an interview with the Winona Post, Olson said that considering that the only project in the district failed, "Maybe the idea we had isn't feasible there. We need to look at that. We need to change the B-2.5 district to make it feasible or get rid of it."

How did we get here?

Some commissioners were puzzled at the Monday meeting as to how parking issues were dealt with when the commission approved the new district back in 2009.

"I know we discussed [the issue of parking requirements], but I don't remember how we came to the decision that we did," Planning Commission Chair Craig Porter said.

Commissioners did highlight parking as an issue when the B-2.5 zone was first created in 2009. According to the commission's minutes from 2009 meetings, Commissioner LaVerne Olson said that there should be off-street parking requirements for all new developments in the district. Porter and commissioner Pam Eyden expressed concerns that parking requirements were needed as well. Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa advised the committee that parking requirements could be dealt with after public hearings on the approval of the new zone. Downtown parking was a complex issue, he said, and did not require immediate action since the McNally project was the only proposal on the table.

That same year, the commission did discuss parking and laid out possible solutions including a "carrot-and-stick" method that would require developments to provide parking or pay a fine. However, no action was taken on the issue.

Today, there are no off-street parking requirements in the downtown parking overlay district, which includes the McNally condominium. Parking overlay districts, which have separate regulations, overlay the top of various zoning districts in the same way that the boundaries of the driftless region overlay Southeast Minnesota, Southwest Wisconsin, and Northeast Iowa.

Dealing with downtown parking issues has been on the to-do list of the Planning Commission and Planning Department for years. When asked why there was never an action taken following the Planning Commission's discussions of parking requirements in 2009, Espinosa said, "There just wasn't any action taken; there was not a specific reason why."

Suggested solutions

At Monday's meeting, Moeller brought up the "carrot-and-stick" approach for parking requirements again. He said that city staff would still like to see rules that would provide incentives for businesses to provide parking as opposed to a rule that was a hard and fast requirement to provide parking. In previous commission meetings, it has been suggested that such a fee system be put in place to help fund a parking ramp. 


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