Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert contacted commissioners about the proposed zoning ordinance amendments last week, gauging whether a majority of the board was interested in having a relaxed version of the most controversial of the changes be developed by county staff members prior to Tuesday's meeting, when a vote on the amendments is anticipated.
An amendment to the amendment, however, will not be prepared by staff. Hebert said Friday that he did not find enough interest in a change to warrant the staff time necessary to write new language for a softened zoning amendment.
Hebert said he also worked to answer questions from commissioners about some of the more complex portions of the set of ordinance changes, and said County Attorney Karin Sonneman will bring legal research to the meeting that will detail whether any changes to the amendments that might be proposed by commissioners Tuesday would warrant another round of public hearings.
A "substantial" change to the ordinance amendments would require the county to start the public hearing process over again, said Hebert, but what constitutes a substantial change is less than clear.
The most controversial of the ordinance amendments is one that would allow owners of existing structures to expand them within a 300-foot radius. Hebert said changing the area in which a building could be expanded — he used the example of a 250-foot radius — likely would not trigger a new round of hearings.
"We wanted to be fully prepared for whatever commissioners could possibly discuss at the meeting," said Hebert of his querying the board about a possible change to the amendment proposal. "At this point, there doesn't seem to be an impetus or indication of any desire to bring [forward another proposal]."
Commissioner Marcia Ward said she asked county staff members some questions about whether they felt a small change to the radius in which an existing building could be expanded would be palatable for other board members. Perhaps, said Ward, a semi-circle of expansion area focused away from bluff edges or away from neighbors of feedlots would help satisfy those who oppose the amendment. But, she said, she wasn't sure even she would support such a change.
"I like options," she explained, a sentiment she has expressed repeatedly over her tenure as a board member, as she is well-known for asking detailed questions before substantial votes. Ward is also the lone commissioner who voted against the current zoning ordinance when it was adopted in 2010.
"I think this is a compromise," said Ward of the amendments as proposed by commissioner Steve Jacob. "This whole idea that it's a free-for-all, that's far from the truth." And, for those who have threatened "political consequences" for commissioners who support Jacob's amendments, Ward had this to say: "I know who elects me. District 5 elects me. The city of Winona doesn't elect me."
The amendments, as proposed
• Owners of parcels under 40 acres in size would be allowed to build a home, as long as the parcel was recorded prior to the ordinance taking effect in 2011. The amendment would not allow a property owner to split a parcel into a lot smaller than 40 acres and build without seeking a conditional use permit; only those parcels that were split prior to the ordinance would be covered under the change. Prior to the current zoning ordinance taking effect, county landowners were allowed to build a house without a permit, and without owning the full 40 acres, as long as the home would be the only non-farm dwelling contained in the 40-acre section. Under the current ordinance, a person must actually own a 40-acre plat of land in order to build without a permit.
• The ordinance would expand the Rural Heritage district to include homes and other structures that were legal when they were constructed but rendered "nonconforming" under the 2010 zoning ordinance. Currently, the Rural Heritage district only includes structures that would have been considered nonconforming under the ordinance because they are located within the bluff setback area. Under the change, all such nonconforming properties would buck the "nonconforming" label and fall within the Rural Heritage district. The current Rural Heritage district rules allow for structures within bluff setbacks to be expanded in certain situations; under the proposed amendment changes, all structures within the Rural Heritage district would be allowed to expand within a 300-foot radius. Farmers would be allowed to expand feedlots within that 300-foot radius, but any increases in animal units would require a feedlot permit.
• Homes destroyed by fire or other natural disasters could be rebuilt.
• Road access to a new home would be allowed through an easement on neighboring property.
• Language that currently states all land uses not specifically listed in the ordinance are unlawful would be amended; the new language would reword the section to allow the planning director the ability to determine whether a land use is appropriate if not specifically listed in the ordinance.