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Commission: Location of pelletizing plant should be rezoned

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Planning Commission is recommending that land annexed into the city and rezoned for a proposed biofuel pelletizing plant -- which never materialized -- should be returned to its original agricultural zone.

In initiating the rezoning, the Planning Commission said it wants the land returned to the agricultural zone until a determination is made about how the area should be developed.

Earthtech Energy of Shoreview had proposed the pelletizing plant on 55 acres located between Civic Center Drive Northeast and the Highway 71/23 bypass.

The land was annexed into the city by City Council action on April 16, 2007.

But the Planning Commission denied a conditional use permit for the plant in May, saying the plant was inconsistent with nearby uses.

The commission's decision was overturned by the Board of Zoning Appeals in August.

Five months later, however, Earthtech announced it was discontinuing development of plans for the proposed plant.

The Planning Commission met Wednesday night and voted to initiate the rezoning. After the meeting, commission chairman Andrew Bjur said the industrial use proposed by Earthtech did not seem to fit well with the nearby MinnWest Technology Campus and the Trentwood residential area.

Also, Willmar School District was concerned about potential conflicts between truck traffic and student traffic on Civic Center Drive.

"It seems to be better to move it back into ag to prevent another industrial use from coming in there at this time,'' Bjur said.

The vote to change the zoning was 6-1 with Bjur, Fernando Alvarado, Carol Laumer, Ranae Rahn, Wayne Stoneberg and Paul Borgerding voting in favor and Charles Oakes voting against.

Oakes said he thought the land should be rezoned for general business, which would allow businesses similar to stores seen on First Street.

The commission will recommend the council set a date for a public hearing to consider the rezoning.