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Willmar's Zoning Appeals Board upholds landowner's appeal on Westwind proposal

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Board of Zoning Appeals has upheld Gary Peterson's appeal of the approval of the conditional use permit for a controversial low- and moderate-income housing project in southwest Willmar.

Peterson appealed three of the seven findings cited by the Planning Commission to approve the permit, and the Board of Zoning Appeals needed to find fault with just one of the three findings to grant the appeal and overturn the Planning Commission's decision, according to Nathan Streed, Zoning Appeals Board chairman.

In a motion by Ross Magnuson that was seconded by Eileen Huberty, the board agreed with Peterson that the twin-home and single-family development known as Westwind Estates Third Addition will substantially diminish or impair property values of existing homes within the neighborhood.

Magnuson offered the motion because he said information from real estate agents about their belief that the project would devalue neighboring property values was not presented to the Planning Commission.

As part of the motion, the board voted 5-1 to approve an amendment by Vince VanHeuveln, who stated that the shared property line wall down the middle of the townhomes would diminish property values.

Jack Cann of St. Paul, the attorney for project developer Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton, said the only reason the conditional use permit was required was to provide the property line down the center of the twin-homes, to establish two parcels of land on one lot and allow the homes to be sold as owner-occupied units.

Cann said the project is located in a zoning district that would allow rental units instead and would not require a conditional use permit.

After the two-hour hearing, attended by about 120 people at the Fire Station meeting room, Peterson praised the decision.

"We felt that we had strong points that the property values would be diminished ... and the board definitely agreed and we're thankful for that,'' said Peterson, who had said development of single-family houses on his adjacent 32 acres would be nearly impossible with a low-income development nearby.

When the Tribune asked Peterson how he felt about rental units, he said the project can't go forward without utilities and streets because four City Council members who oppose Westwind won't vote for streets in the 2008 improvement program.

Rick Goodemann, Housing Partnership executive director, said the project will move forward as a rental project.

"We're not stopping,'' he said. The financing was changed to allow for home ownership "because we thought it would be more conducive to neighborhood acceptance. The people want rental. We'll do rental. No problem.''

Regarding the City Council's decision to remove Westwind from the street construction program, Goodemann said, "We're going to check that out. I'm not sure what we're going to do yet.''