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Baxter City Council: Variance application ignites discussion on garage door restrictions

Council members expressed interest in taking another look at how city ordinances address garage doors, as well as other stipulations that differentiate residential and commercial properties.

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Baxter resident Dale Westhoff (right), addresses the council during its Tuesday, Nov. 19 meeting, for a potential variance that would allow an 11-foot high garage door in an R1 low-density residential property. While denying the application, council members noted the debate pointed to a large issue of how building sizes, door heights and zones factor into the makeup of the city. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — During its biweekly meeting Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Baxter City Council opted to deny a request for a variance that would have allowed an 11-foot high garage door on a low-density residential Whipple Lake property, but an animated discussion could point to possible changes to the ordinance going forward.

Multiple council members expressed an interest in revisiting the issue and possibly directing staff to pursue a revision to the ordinance.

Applicants Dale and Cindy Westhoff presented an application to the city to grant a variance on the property at 14354 Shoreview Drive. As the ordinance is currently written, properties in R1 zones must have overhead doors that don’t exceed 9 feet.

Per discussions, the variance would come with the understanding the higher door is intended to allow a mid-sized recreational vehicle in for storage and that a false facade of swinging panels would be installed that matches the stucco finish of the building and masks the door as a standard 9-foot entrance. The Westhoffs noted these plans came after a substantial kitchen and garage addition had been added to the property.

However, city ordinances also dictate that the Westhoffs are restricted where they can park the RV out in the open on a lakefront property.

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“We know we can’t meet all those criteria,” Dale Westhoff said. “We’re looking at the variance as a kind of compromise. Looking in from the street, it wouldn’t look like a higher door, it would appear to be 9 feet from any angle of the street or adjacent properties to our own.”

Much of the debate between council members revolved around conflicting positions that the Westhoffs had done good diligence in terms of planning and design to accommodate the city, but that handing out variances without suitable justification would only serve to undermine the purpose of the ordinances as they’re written now.

Echoing council member Mark Cross, council member Todd Holman said he applauded the Westhoffs for their ingenuity and design, but felt it would complicate what may be a citywide issue in how commercial areas are separated and aesthetically differentiated from residential properties.

“What I’m struggling with is a way for us as a city operating,” Holman said. “Ordinances set the playing field for everyone to behave and design. … I think for residential properties the door height might have been a way to restrict the size of the building so that they look residential. One person may be fine with a 10-sided pole barn in a residential lot and the other might not.”

Council member Zach Tabatt said he understood the purpose and need to honor ordinances that pertain to property zones like R1 low-density residential zones, but questioned some of the particular guidelines that restrict one from the other.

“I’m curious why we allow a building large enough to house this vehicle, but not a large enough door for the vehicle in question,” Tabatt said. “The building is already large enough where a commercial-sized door would fit, but it’s the door that makes it a commercial building? I don’t know. The concept confuses me.”

In turn, Cross noted an amendment to the ordinance may be in order, as there may be a number of property owners with similar concerns and plans for their properties. Mayor Darrel Olson said he agreed and speculated if the city should look at revamping its approach to the storage of large vehicles including RVs and garage restrictions.

“I think these problems were birthed with legitimate reasons. I don’t think it was meant to be punitive, but for good reasons at the time,” Olson said. “But, maybe it’s time we took another look at it.”

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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