Faribault’s City Council has opted to revisit a controversial permit it granted in January, after complaints from councilors and neighbors that the spirit of the agreement was not followed.
In January, the council overrode the recommendation of its own Planning Commission and approve an Interim Use Permit request from landlord Siegfried Homes. Long owned by Sigfried, the site located at 3701 Hwy. 60 W had been vacant since last summer. Represented by Councilor Royal Ross, a property management agent who abstained from any decision in his role as city councilor, Siegfried asked for the permit on behalf of an as-yet unnamed tenant who wanted to use the vacant property to sell storage sheds.
A similar store existed in Northfield but has since closed, gap a vacancy in the local market. Without naming the proposed tenant, Ross said that the tenant had a long history in the business, and was looking for a new site after losing their previous site in a different city.
At the time, Ross insisted that the tenant had been in the previous city for a lengthy period of time without controversy. However, tenant Pat Tripp began attracting controversy and complaints almost as soon as he moved in.
Before Tripp entered the scene, the west Faribault site was relatively nondescript, despite its prominent location along one of the main gateways to Faribault.
Still, with an office building next to a metal store and warehouse, it offered ready-made opportunities for development. No rezoning was required for the project to move forward, as the site had already been zoned for commercial development. But there was a catch: city ordinance requires outdoor sales to be conducted on a paved surface.
At the time, Ross argued that this was an issue of governmental regulation threatening private business, and that the regulation made no sense in this particular case.
“(The gravel surface) allows the filtration of stormwater when it rains and reduces runoff from the site,” Siegfried said. “It’s more environmentally friendly than paving it, and meets the objectives on the (city’s) website.”
More controversial was the way in which Tripp, with the consent of Siegfried Homes, utilized the space. While initial depictions showed a nicely organized row of roughly 10 sheds on the property, the site has at times had roughly 25.
Other issues were identified as well. Tripp was flagged for parking trucks on the grass and even encroaching onto his neighbor’s property. In addition to sheds, he’s also been running a U-Haul rental business out of the site.
City Planning Coordinator Peter Waldock says he visited the site, once in April and again in July, to inspect it following complaints. While Waldock said he told Tripp the site was not in compliance with city code, Tripp disputed that.
“I met with Peter and he couldn’t give me a specific complaint,” Tripp claimed. “After Looking at the property, he said it looks like there’s compliance.”
Tripp also said that while the number of sheds has been significantly higher than shown in the initial drawings at times, it’s also been lower at other times, depending on the ebb and flow of supply and demand.
While acknowledging that Tripp violated city ordinance by parking trucks on the grass, Ross criticized the city’s approach to the violation. Instead of threatening termination of the IUP, he said the business owner should have been given a chance to correct it.
As for the U-Haul business, Siegfried said that she wasn’t aware that Tripp would need permission to sell them on the property. She said that initial drawings shown to the Council were created in the initial stages of planning the development.
“We were just trying to see if it could work,” she said.
Siegfried was quick to point out that a defined limit on the number of sheds which could sit on the property isn’t included in city code. She said that she didn’t see the initial depiction as necessarily binding, an argument which several councilors were sympathetic to.
“When I saw the original request with 10 sheds, I thought of it as a general depiction,” said Councilor Peter van Sluis.
Councilors initially seemed sympathetic to the case made by Tripp, Ross and Siegfried. Then, area businessman Matt Drevlow got up to speak on behalf of KGP Co, Tripp’s neighbor, and made a forceful case that the shed company had not in fact been a good neighbor.
Drevlow criticized councilors directly, saying he believed that the issue stemmed from improper approval of the interim permit. Since the use was permissible at the location, he argued that it would have been more appropriate for the council to consider granting a variance.
Had it done so, Drevlow argued that the council likely would not have granted the variance. Furthermore, once the permit was granted, he expressed frustration that the council had essentially signed a “blank check” for the business to develop as it wanted to.
As a result, Drevlow said that the development of the space had simply become excessive, without any parking requirements to ensure accessibility. As a result, he said it had become something of a nuisance on the edge of town — and next to KGP. While it has locations in dozens of states throughout the country, KGP has made Faribault its corporate headquarters. A manufacturer and distributor of telecommunications equipment, KGP’s clients include prominent businesses across the country.
Drevlow said that in recent years, KGP has poured more than a million dollars into its Faribault building and regularly hosts major clients there. He said that the development created an unappealing gateway to the facility, potentially turning off clients.
“To be honest with you, there are other places we could make those investments,” he said. “We didn’t anticipate that this kind of development would take place.”
When the initial permit was approved, Drevlow and KGP did not raise their concerns. Drevlow said that he was not aware of it. He also said he was surprised to see the council approve the development against the recommendation of staff and the Planning Commission. That convinced Councilor Elizabeth Cap that the permit needed to be repealed. After expressing frustration with Ross’s decision to represent a client before the city, she said that allowing the permit to stand would set a poor precedent.
“I really appreciate this business, but the site doesn’t work for the property and neighboring properties,” she said. “We have a liability to ensure that we’re applying these ordinances equally.”
The rest of the Council took a more cautious approach. Though it may not have been laid out explicitly in the IUP, Councilor Janna Viscomi expressed frustration at the discrepancy between what had initially been envisioned at the site and what happened.
“I think we should try to make this cuter,” Viscomi said. “It’d be nice if we can find a compromise on this.”
Mayor Kevin Voracek commended Tripp for running a good business, saying that as he drives around town he sees new sheds sprouting up where they weren’t before. However, he said that the development itself was overwhelming.
“I think it caught the council off guard,” He said. “I think to all of us it looked nice and clean, and as Janna said, cute. Then this mass allotment of sheds showed up, a U-Haul business came in with it, there were selling some Dodges off the front of it and extra signage.”
Ross suggested that the council could wait until next year, when the IUP would need to be automatically revisited. However, the council was intent on placating KGP and other potential concerned neighbors by finding a solution now.
While Cap’s motion to repeal the permit failed, a motion from Councilor Jonathan Wood to set a deadline of two months (Oct. 25) for an agreement to be reached was approved. That sets the stage for further discussion of the issue at upcoming council work session.