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Condo debate goes citywide (07/03/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Photo by Chris Rogers
     Fears of dense redevelopment of the condominium building formerly owned by David McNally prompted the city to re-evaluate zoning of that area. However, some of the proposed zoning changes considered by the Winona City Council on Monday would affect businesses across the city. Arguments that the proposed changes were too strict and that property owners should have been notified led the council to delay a final decision.
Proposed zoning changes would "handcuff" development, said some Winona City Council members of proposed ordinance adjustments during a Monday night meeting. There is more than meets the eye, one council member suggested, saying some of the changes were intended to affect Winona State University (WSU) expansion plans. The council postponed discussion of changes to the zoning code proposed by staff and approved by the Winona Planning Commission after the changes drew criticism from some council members. Other council members argued that property owners within the affected zone ought to be notified before the council proceeded.

"There are already so many restrictions on downtown business being able to develop, this would make it nearly impossible," said City Council member Michelle Alexander.

The proposed zoning changes came out of an effort to address potential for uncontrolled development of the condominium complex formerly owned by Dave McNally and the tiny B-2.5 zoning district that encompasses a few adjacent blocks. The B-2.5 district was created in 2009 following a request by McNally for zoning changes that would allow for the condominium project. The city used emergency ordinance powers to freeze new development of the district this April after city staff talked with the property's new owner, River Bank of La Crosse, who had a potential deal to sell the building.

Rules would change throughout city

While the proposal was developed in response to potential development of one specific property within the B-2.5 district, it includes changes to broad parts of the zoning code that would affect business across the city. One change would require parking for commercial property in business districts be located on the same lot as the building it is intended to serve, while somewhat loosening requirements for hospitals, schools, and colleges, requiring that parking be within 300 feet of a building and on the same campus, but not the same lot.

Under the proposed changes, city-wide parking requirements for lodging and boarding establishments (that is, rentals without kitchens) would be reduced from one-per-person to .65-per-person. That "downgrade" puts the parking requirements on a par with what would be required of a residential dwelling unit home to three unrelated people, explained City Planner Mark Moeller.

Changes specific

to the B-2.5 district

New density and parking restrictions would only affect the B-2.5 district. Currently, much of the B-2.5 district, including the condominium building, is not required to have any off-street parking for any use. The proposed changes would make the district subject to the normal parking requirements—notably, two off-street spaces per dwelling unit.

The proposal would prevent dense residential development by requiring 1,000 square feet of lot area per dwelling unit. For a one-acre or roughly 43,000 square-foot lot, that would mean a developer could create 43 dwelling units, Moeller explained. The condominium lot, which was previously approved for 16 units, is less than 11,000 square feet in area. Under the proposal, any changes to the approved plan for that structure involving more than 11 dwelling units would require either a variance or that adjacent property to be added to the lot.

Council critiques

"I have a problem with 1,000 square feet; I have a problem with required parking," Alexander said of the proposed alterations to the B-2.5 district. The rules would not hamper student housing development, but limit potential development to house working adults, she said. "When we make units bigger it's harder for people to afford them."

Alexander said that the requiring two off-street parking spaces and 1,000 square feet per dwelling unit made multi-unit residential development of the district effectively impossible. Dense residential development in downtown would benefit the community, she argued.

Alexander also suggested that the some of the proposed changes targeted WSU's plans for creating an education village near Seventh and Center Streets. "I think some of these things are specific to whatever's happening on Center Street," she said. The proposed changes to the parking requirements would affect WSU, she stated. She added that the two parking spaces per unit requirement was strict. "That's a lot of parking spots," she said.

Alexander recused herself from the April vote to rework zoning rules for the district because partners in her realty office had been considering the property. She said those offers are gone and she plans to participate in future votes on the issue.

Council member George Borzyskowski also opposed the proposed restrictions on the B-2.5 district. "This really handcuffs [development] if anyone were to purchase it," he said.

Council member Paul Double said that many property owners believed the proposed changes only affected the condominium. All of the property owners in the B-2.5 district should be notified of the change, Double argued. The rest of the council concurred.

Bike path contract approved

The council voted unanimously to approve a $566,000 bid from Dunn Blacktop for the replacement of the Lake Park bike path. Work on the project will begin in late August or the beginning of September and will be finished within a month, city staff said. The project will totally resurface the bike path, widen it by two feet, and add entrances to the path. Funding for the project will come from a combination of borrowing, private donations, and money budgeted for the dike bike path.

Last month, the council approved the first of two sculptures/water fountains intended to be installed along the path.



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