Land use – a new part of the story – updated

In addition to the Land Development Code Big Project, there is another land use item to note.  Tomorrow, the Council will consider approving a conditional use permit (or CUP) for Carleton College to allow the single-family home at 212 2nd Street East (the SW corner of 2nd and Union Streets) to be used as office space for the “Web Services Group” with up to seven full-time employees and two part-time student workers (Full Council packet information/Planning Commission packet).

Land use law tutorial 1: A conditional use is a permitted use, it is just permitted with conditions.  This means the City has very little discretion and cannot deny a CUP if the applicant meets the conditions.   In the R-2 zone, where this property is located,  “educational institutions or facilities” are a conditional use.   The list of conditions is quite long, but the biggest concerns from an objective regulation standpoint are usually parking (7 spaces are required for this project- 2 can be provided on site with the remainder across the street), traffic patterns, and lighting.  “Compatibility with surrounding land uses” (or a perceived lack of it) is what gets neighbors excited.   The other part of the CUP is the review process – by state law, a public hearing is required;  the Planning Commission held that hearing Thursday, April 8 (no neighbors or other members of the public attended).   Then the PC makes its findings about the conditions and recommends approval or denial to the Council.

The Planning Commission recommended denial of the CUP (4-2 vote; the PC has a vacant seat) on the grounds that the appropriate permission needed is for an Interim Use Permit, not a CUP.  How did the Interim Use permit idea get in here?

Carleton applied for a CUP and staff dutifully wrote up their report analyzing the facts for a CUP.  An astute PC member, however, read the zoning ordinance and noticed the R-2 zone not only allowed educational institutions and facilities as conditional uses, but also “College-related office uses” as interim uses and argued the interim use permit was the proper action.

Land use law tutorial 2: Interim Use Permits are much like conditional use permits but with a time limit (“until a particular date, until the occurrence of a particular event, or until zoning regulations no longer permit it” – from both Northfield code & MN statutes).  Indeed, in Northfield the review of the interim use applications includes the same analysis of the conditions included in the CUP regulations.  Interim use permits are created by state law; Northfield adds the CUP review standards to the state regulations.   The IUP is a relatively new land use control in Northfield; it was added to the code in 2002 and “college office uses” was included as an interim use because of concerns that Carleton and St Olaf were doing piecemeal development in established neighborhoods and the IUP provided a tool for allowing the use, but also creating an ending point for that use.

The Small Policy Issue: Adding the IUP language to the code in 2002 created some murkiness.  Carleton’s project could fit under either the CUP or IUP standards (and City Attorney Chris Hood has provided a memo defending the CUP -page 30 of that packet section – analysis, but not slamming the door on the IUP either).  It would have been clearer if the Council had amended the Code in 2002 to  make clear what college uses were CUPs and which IUPs…but we didn’t.

The Larger Policy Issue: Because the Land Development Code is still being developed and the section of the College zoning district has not yet been reviewed nor the boundaries on the zoning map finalized, there is some question about whether this use will be allowed in the near future.    The City still needs to have the discussion about where the Colleges are permitted broad latitude to determine the pattern of land use, what they are permitted to do in the “edge areas” (remember neighborhood compatibility is a hallmark of the new code draft), and where the edges will be drawn on the map.

I do think the IUP language is more closely tailored to the situation – this is a college-related office and not any old educational or institutional use.  And, if the Larger Policy Issue is resolved so that college office uses are permitted in the surrounding neighborhood, then the appropriate permit can be issued to allow Carleton to continue this use at this location.  Or, if the Larger Policy is to restrict or discourage college offices in the neighborhood, the College is on notice that laws may change and the city has a means to end that use when the zoning regulations no longer permit it.

UPDATE 4/22: The Council approved the CUP 7-0.   City staff have allowed Carleton to apply for and the Council has approved at least one CUP for college office use since 2002 when the IUP ordinance was adopted.  As a result, the interpretation of the ordinance allowing pursuing either a CUP or IUP for college offices tied the Council’s hands.  Despite not having the discretion to deny the CUP or require Carleton to apply for an IUP, I was pleased that my fellow Councilors spoke to the policy issues above prior to our vote.   There was a strong statement by the Council that the City is not in favor of the incremental, piecemeal college development in one of our historic residential neighborhoods.  I am looking forward to the discussion of college-related development as the land development code revision moves forward.

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