A proposed moratorium on amendment’s to Brainerd’s zoning code means the city council would not have to entertain any requested changes to the code while it is being rewritten.

Council members agreed Monday, July 19, to move forward with a character-based organization of zoning districts for the new code, which is undergoing a complete rewrite with the help of Swanson Hasskamp Consulting.

The council also began the process of putting a moratorium on text and map amendments to the code. Without the moratorium, the city is required to review any proposed changes residents seek to the zoning code, which is somewhat counterintuitive while the code is being rewritten.

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“The moratorium doesn’t preclude the city council or the planning commission from considering amendments to the code between now and the time the new code’s adopted,” Community Development Director David Chanski said Monday. “It just essentially just gives us more wiggle room … and we can work with an applicant hand in hand with the zoning code update, so we’re not updating our current code while we’re trying to write a new code.”

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The council conducted the first reading Monday for the interim ordinance that would put a moratorium on zoning code amendments. A public hearing is set during the regular council meeting Aug. 2, after which the council is expected to conduct the second ordinance reading.

Changes to the code

In a July 12 workshop, council members listened to representatives from Swanson Hasskamp Consulting, which presented an annotated outline describing how character-based zoning would work in the city.

The updated approach is designed to:

  • Consolidate the city’s existing zoning districts into character-based zoning districts.

  • Reduce repetition by incorporating physical and site standards in the revised zoning districts.

  • Update and revise zoning districts to support the city’s future land use plan, as laid out in the comprehensive plan.

  • Reorganize the code structure to make it flow better and be more user friendly.

Character-based zoning essentially means dividing the city into districts based on the physical character of the area and creating standards and regulations accordingly. For example, north Brainerd, northeast Brainerd and the area around Oak Street are described in the outline as “traditional neighborhoods,” while the Buffalo Hills and Northtown areas were identified as “suburban/established neighborhoods.” The two different neighborhoods are distinctly different, thereby requiring different zoning laws.

Council members gave a general consensus on moving forward with the idea of character-based zoning at the end of the workshop, expecting a resolution Monday formally accepting the basic idea laid out in the annotated outline but not necessarily the specifics.

The resolution before the council, however, called for the approval of the outline as it stood, which council members took issue with Monday.

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“The annotated outline is kind of our framework for writing the actual zoning code, and by adopting this resolution tonight, what you’ll essentially be doing is authorizing staff to start the process of actually doing the drafting of the new zoning code ordinance,” Chanski said.

But council members maintained the language of the resolution — to approve “the approach, process and recommendations contained within the Annotated Outline” — was not what was discussed during the workshop.

“I was under the impression at the workshop that we would be having a conceptual approval of form-based zoning … and instead we have a resolution adopting the annotated outline that was presented to us,” council member Gabe Johnson said. “There is some problems with the annotated outline that no amount of lecturing is going to satisfy me.”

Johnson brought up the labeling of the traditional neighborhoods as “T1, T2 and T3,” feeling as though that connotes a ranking system, a concern council member Mike O’Day brought up at the workshop.

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O’Day agreed with Johnson’s position Monday, worrying the labeling of neighborhoods in the outline would promote favoritism for one area of the city over another.

“It was my understanding that we just talked about what the concepts were, and we gave you some of our concerns, and then you guys were going to go ahead and bring back some design changes with that after a moratorium of six months,” O’Day said. “So doing a resolution right now, one week later, adopting everything that was in (the outline), this isn’t what I had in mind.”

Mayor Dave Badeaux, who wasn’t able to attend last week’s workshop, said he was not comfortable putting his name on something that was just gone through in one workshop.

Council member Tad Erickson, liaison to the planning commission, reminded the rest of the council that the planning commission has been working with the consultants on the outline for a long time. And, he said, the consultants made it clear during the workshop that the names of the character areas could be subject to change.

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Johnson, however, said the resolution does not specify anything the consultants said during the workshop. It just says the council is adopting the outline as is.

Council President Kelly Bevans felt the same way, saying council members were told time and time again they would not be voting on the detailed descriptions in the outline.

“I happen to like a lot of what’s in here,” Bevans said of the outline, “but I got it one day before the workshop and didn’t have enough time to really study the 24 pages of what it actually says. … And in the end I may support this entire document or some portion of it, but I’d like to have some time to go through it before adopting it as a resolution.”

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Council member Dave Pritschet was also concerned about approving specific details instead of the broad guidelines mentioned in the workshop but added he was not concerned about the neighborhood names, as it is impossible to tell if one number is better than another.

Council member Kevin Stunek agreed with the majority as well, compelling Erickson — who initially moved to approve the resolution — to amend his motion, instead approving the recommendation to transition the current zoning code to a hybrid, character-based zoning code to better align with the comprehensive plan.

The council approved the measure unanimously, opening the door for the planning commission to start working on a detailed zoning code update.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.