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Seven-year-old zoning change forces parking lot challenges

Mitchell (Republic file photo)

A change of the city's zoning ordinance code in 2012 has created some issues for two Mitchell businesses and their current parking lot plans seven years later.

One of the businesses affected by the city's re-adopted zoning ordinance code was building company Puetz Corporation, which recently brought forward a plan to the Planning Commission to construct a parking lot in the property adjacent to its construction business at 800 N. Kimball St. That potential parking lot was located in a R2 residential-zoned district, City Attorney Justin Johnson said during the May 13 Planning Commission meeting.

Researching similar instances of parking lots near residential areas on Kimball Street, Johnson found that five of the six parking lots were constructed before the 2012 zoning ordinance re-adoption, allowing those five to be grandfathered in.

The only outlier was the Vern Eide GMC dealership located at 219 E. First Ave., which was constructed after the zoning re-adoption. Johnson said the city recently notified Vern Eide of the zoning classification and informed the car dealership they had to submit a rezoning application or modification in order to continue using the parking lot.

According to Johnson, the Puetz construction business was previously located in a Transportation Warehouse Commercial, or TWC, zoning district, which allows commercial businesses. However, the city's current zoning ordinance has Puetz Corporation in a R2 residential zoning district.

The change forced Puetz Corporation to apply for a plan approval in order to place a parking lot on the land adjacent to its business, because parking lots are not allowed in an R2 district. Johnson's findings, paired with opposition from nearby residents, ultimately led the Planning Commission to decide against recommending the parking lot proposal last month.

"Puetz can still use his lot the way that he was using it when it was zoned a TWC district, but our zoning code doesn't allow for (Puetz) to expand his operation under the TWC zoning guidelines because it's now in an R2 residential zoning district," Johnson said. "Essentially, Puetz has to adhere to the R2 zoning guidelines, and a parking lot is not a conditional or permitted use."

Under the city's zoning ordinance, the only items permitted in an R2 district are electrical vehicle charging stations, open space, parks, playgrounds and single-family dwellings.

"I'm not sure what happened as to why Puetz Corporation changed to an R2 district, so I would need to be educated on that aspect," Puetz said.

As for Vern Eide, Brian Nash, a certified financial officer at Vern Eide GMC in Mitchell, said the car dealership intends to submit an application to the Planning Commission requesting rezoning of the lot. Should the Planning Commission and Mitchell City Council approve the rezoning application, it would allow Vern Eide to continue utilizing the lot as they have since a 2015 fire prompted the relocation of Chesterman Company's Mitchell Coca-Cola plant.

According to Nash, the former Coca-Cola parking lot was zoned a TWC district but after the 2012 zoning re-adoption, the parking lot reverted back to an R2 zoning district.

Johnson said the owners of the five parking lots must abide by their respective zoning district guidelines after the ordinance update. That means the respective businesses who were once zoned a TWC district and switched to an R2 or R4 district may not expand beyond the guidelines of their current zoning district.

"Whether Vern Eide wants to request the zoning ordinance to be modified or rezoned, they have to get approval from the Planning Commission and City Council to use the lot the way they're using it now," Johnson said. "Since its located in an R2 district now, it's technically not permitted to be used they way they're currently using it."

"We were unaware that the parking lot reverted back to an R2 zoning district, but we plan to request for the lot to be rezoned back to a commercial zoning district," Nash said in an interview with The Daily Republic. "We're in the midst of working with our attorney at the moment."

In the case of Vern Eide, the dealership's physical location is in the TWC district, but the parking lot north of East Hanson Avenue between Kimball and Langdon streets is not. Johnson said the dealership being next door would enhance Vern Eide's opportunity to get the Planning Commission's approval for rezoning, because it wouldn't fall under the category of "spot zoning," or zoning a small area of land in a differing zone from that of neighboring property. Puetz Corp.'s parking lot would also be contiguous to its current business, but would be located immediately next to residential homes.

"I don't know if spot zoning is prohibited, but it's clearly not favored," Johnson said. "It could end up leading to a lot of problems, and that's just one reason why it's frowned upon."

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