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Kandiyohi Co. denies multi-unit employee housing at Livestock farms

WILLMAR -- On a 3-1 vote Monday night the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission denied a request to change the zoning ordinance to allow high-density housing on livestock farms through a conditional use permit.

The amendment was not requested on behalf of a specific farm and would've app-lied to any livestock operation, but developers for Meadow Star Dairy -- a proposed $60 million dairy in St. John's Township near Pennock -- had lobbied for its passage.

Nate Hultgren, one of the Meadow Star Dairy developers, said defeat of the zoning ordinance amendment was unfortunate for the county.

"I think it was a chance to take some progress in the right direction for industry in our county," said Hultgren in a brief interview after the vote.

"I think our planning and zoning did not step up to the plate to lead that charge."

Last month the commission discussed a motion to approve the proposed zoning amendment 2½ hours before tabling it, saying they needed additional information to questions like the legality of sun setting conditional use permits and the risk of setting a precedent for employee housing for non-livestock businesses.

After reviewing written responses to those questions from Zoning Administrator Gary Geer and considering new wording to the zoning amendment, the seven-member appointed planning commission denied the request.

Sherman Schueler cast the only vote in support of allowing high-density employee housing on farms. The former dairy farmer said he has believed in employee housing on farms as an efficient use of energy and land "long before Meadow Star showed up on the scene."

Those voting against the amendment were Harlan Madsen, Doug Hanson and Jerome Bengtson.

Gwynne Anderson and John Dean were absent, although Dean sent a letter saying he could not support the amendment. Chairman Ed Huseby did not vote.

Madsen said he had supported high-density housing on farms when it was first raised in the county three years ago and has "pondered this issue daily" for the last three to four months.

"It has been thoroughly vetted and I have pondered significantly," said Madsen, adding that he no longer supports a conditional use process for on-site agricultural employee housing because he believes it doesn't mesh with his job as a county commissioner to "support good public policy."

He acknowledged that his view and vote would please some, including residents and the county's own zoning staff who opposed the amendment, and would anger others.

Hultgren said construction of Meadow Star Dairy is currently on hold because of the economy but the project won't stop because of the zoning ordinance wasn't amended.

Hultgren said he intends to keep working on the multi-unit ag housing issue. "We'll be back and we'll try and reshape this thing in a more acceptable manner," he said.

Meanwhile, the planning commission tabled a request by Margaret Dokken for a conditional use permit for commercial storage units to be built along state Highway 9 in Colfax Township.

Several residents objected, saying the Dokken's property was already an eye-sore because of outside storage and expressed concern it would only get worse if a storage business was located there.

Geer had recommended approval of the permit, with one of the conditions being that outside storage not be allowed.

Neighbors said it would be difficult to enforce that condition because it would be too hard to tell the difference between new or existing items stored on the 22-acre site.

Geer was instructed to work on legal wording with the county attorney to create a condition that was definable, enforceable and defendable.

Action on that conditional use permit will be made at the planning commission's Sept. 12 meeting.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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