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Brainerd Council approves parking lot moratorium

The six-month moratorium prohibits the conversion of dwelling units in the R-1 residential district to green space or parking lots.

Vacant lot behind St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic Church
A lot stands vacant behind St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic Church Wednesday, July 6, 2022, after a house was recently demolished.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — The widespread housing shortage was at the center of a Brainerd City Council moratorium enacted Tuesday, July 5.

Council members voted unanimously to institute a six-month moratorium on converting dwelling units in the R-1 residential zone to green space or surface parking.

Community Development Director James Kramvik previously told the council staff were approached by concerned citizens about single-family homes being removed to build parking lots or create green space areas. And with the city’s shortage of housing already, he said staff wanted time to study the issue with the Planning Commission and come to a solution.

During the public hearing Tuesday before the council’s decision, north Brainerd resident Chuck Marohn said, while the city has taken a step in the right direction with the revamped zoning code which was passed later Tuesday, there are still some gaps that need to be filled in, and this issue is one of them.

“The need to address school district, churches, hospitals that are all part of the R-1 district — all embedded in residential zones — continuing to purchase and eat up properties for parking, we’ve got to have a different way to deal with this issue,” Marohn said, noting he has found model ordinances in other cities that he will bring to the planning commission for consideration.

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Council member Gabe Johnson also expressed his support for the measure and pointed out the appropriate timing of the decision.

“I think it’s nice that we’re voting on this on a day that the school district is tearing down historic Lincoln School to create a parking lot,” he said. “I think it’s good that the city is trying to save structures and save built things in our community as opposed to tearing them down for parking.”

The South Sixth Street Lincoln Education Center came down Tuesday, as one of the last projects resulting from the Brainerd Public Schools voter-approved referendum in 2018.

Built in 1938, Lincoln was among the district’s oldest buildings, serving first as an elementary school and later transitioning into an education center providing special education services. With Lincoln now demolished and the land to be turned into a parking lot, the services previously offered there will move to the Brainerd High School south campus, which will be renamed Lincoln Education Center. While earlier community efforts to save the building were unsuccessful, district officials ensured they would preserve artifacts from the building before its demolition.

Mayor Dave Badeaux, who does not vote on council matters except in the event of a tie, voiced his support for the measure as well, a stance backed up by his history of speaking out against parking lots in general and in favor of more on-street parking. He mentioned the recent Arts in the Park event in Gregory Park, during which city officials marked off accessible parking spots along the street. Those who have buildings that need accessible parking can ask the city to do the same, he said, instead of creating nearby parking lots.

“There are solutions that do not involve removing homes, especially in this environment, especially in the status that we’re in with people searching for homes the way that they are, for us to be removing them is irresponsible and very shortsighted,” Badeaux said, noting a house was recently demolished in north Brainerd.

Kramvik said north Brainerd residents approached him about the moratorium, and there are rumors of another project in the area that would potentially take down another house.

With the council’s approval, the six-month moratorium is now in effect with exemptions for the Brainerd Economic Development Authority, the Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority and Crow Wing County, along with the removal of any unsafe or hazardous structures by the city pursuant to its statutory authority.

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Planning Commission members will now work with staff to determine a solution to the issue.

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

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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