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Brainerd Council moves toward 2nd moratorium to prevent housing loss

A second moratorium on the conversion of dwelling units in four of Brainerd’s zoning districts to green space or parking lots will take effect in mid-January.

An outside view of a hospital
Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd in January 2022.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Another temporary fix to prevent the loss of housing in Brainerd was under consideration Monday, Dec. 19, after council members failed to approve a more permanent solution earlier this month.

A second moratorium on the conversion of dwelling units in four of Brainerd’s zoning districts to green space or parking lots could take effect in mid-January after City Council members approved the first reading Monday night. This move would tack an extra three months onto a six-month moratorium the council enacted in July for the same purpose.

The issue stemmed from staff conversations with residents, who brought up concerns about single-family homes being demolished for things like parking lots or green space areas, further exacerbating the already existent lack of housing in the city.

The July moratorium put a temporary ban on demolishing dwelling units for those purposes as city staff worked with the Planning Commission on a formal ordinance addressing the issue. The ordinance went before the council Dec. 5 but failed for lack of a second after council member and Planning Commission liaison Tad Erickson made a motion for its approval.

The proposed ordinance prohibited the demolition of housing units in zoning districts labeled Traditional Neighborhood 1 and 2 and Contemporary Neighborhood 1 and 2. Those are the four primary residential areas in the city, covering most of north and northeast Brainerd, along with several parcels west of the Mississippi River, the area along Beaver Dam Road and much of south Brainerd outside of the downtown area and the Industrial Park.

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Two caveats in the ordinance provided exemptions for projects where a building permit is issued at the same time to authorize the construction of a replacement dwelling unit or if permits are issued in a TN-2 district to convert a dwelling into or replace it with a commercial unit.

When originally drafted, the ordinance also had a third exemption, allowing a demolition to occur if the City Council were to approve an alternate use. Planning Commission members opted to remove that third exemption, worrying it could still contribute to the loss of housing.

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The council’s hesitancy on the ordinance came after representatives from St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic Church and Essentia Health spoke in opposition, with The Rev. Michael Garry urging the council to put the third caveat back in the ordinance.

Garry said St. Francis church has a need for a new rectory to house priests, and that project would require more space than is now available around the church.

Similarly, Mike Larson, vice president of operations for Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, said the ordinance as written would prohibit any further expansion opportunities for the facility in north Brainerd. With the demand for health care services continuing to increase, Larson said the hospital will undoubtedly have to expand to meet those needs but would have to look elsewhere to do so.

While Erickson said Dec. 5 he supported the ordinance as written, no one seconded his motion for approval. Council member Tiffany Stenglein attempted to approve the ordinance with the third exemption added back in but was told by legal counsel any changes mean the process of conducting two readings and hosting public hearings on the ordinance must start over.

With the ordinance now in the Planning Commission’s hands and the original moratorium on demolishing dwellings set to expire Jan. 17, the council approved the first reading of an additional three-month moratorium that would take effect Jan. 15.

Council members will host a public hearing on the moratorium at their next meeting in January and could approve a second and final reading at that time.

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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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