Bird Island Township proposes resolution to zoning dispute

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OLIVIA — A proposal from the Bird Island Township board of supervisors might help the city of Olivia and Renville County resolve the conflict over a landowner's request to rezone a portion of the urban expansion zone east of the city.

The township board of supervisors voted 2-1 to support the request of Sawyer Tersteeg to rezone an 11½-acre parcel from its urban expansion zone designation back to an agricultural zone. Tersteeg is asking Renville County to approve the rezoning. It would allow him to apply for a conditional use permit and, if awarded, to operate a corn and soybean seed warehouse in the former Palmer Bus Garage he moved to the site.

The city of Olivia opposes rezoning the parcel in the urban expansion zone where the city has invested thousands in infrastructure improvements.

To resolve the dispute, the township supervisors are also recommending that the county and city consider revising the urban expansion zone itself. They recommended adding language listing a seed warehouse as an allowed activity in it.

Tersteeg could pursue his business, the city and county could still assure orderly development in the zone, and Bird Island Township would see an improved tax base, Township Supervisor Jason Rouse told the Renville County Planning Commission on Monday.

He was among more than three dozen people, including members of the Olivia City Council and Renville County Board of Commissioners, who attended the Planning Commission meeting to hear continued debate over the zoning request. The Planning Commission will continue the discussion with a public hearing Oct. 8, after which they will make a recommendation to the County Board of Commissioners for or against the rezoning request.

Tersteeg has amended the request to ask the county to also consider amending its comprehensive plan to designate the land as agriculturally zoned. His property is at the eastern edge of the urban expansion zone that the city, county and township approved in 2016.

As part of an urban expansion zone, Tersteeg can farm the property and store his own grain, but he cannot operate a commercial business on it. He could operate a seed warehouse there if the property is annexed into the city.

He told the commissioners the current zoning prevents him from using the property for its highest and best use. "As stated by one of the commissioners at the last meeting, 'what's the difference to Olivia if the county lets Sawyer do what he wants that he could do inside the city if he got annexed?'" said Testeeg.

Attorney Igor Lenzner, representing the city of Olivia, told the Planning Commission that rezoning the property is contrary to the agreement reached when the county, city and township created the urban expansion zone. He also said Tersteeg originally applied to build a home on the site and a shed for agricultural use, but checked the box stating "no" to commercial use.

Lenzler said there would be no inspection of what is essentially an industrial building for fire, electrical and building code compliance if the county approves the rezoning and conditional use permit.

The city is also interested in protecting its investment in infrastructure to serve the area for future growth, and wants to assure that development is orderly, according to Lenzler.

Attorney Dan Schleck, representing Tersteeg, said his client shouldn't be made part of Olivia's "gamble" in what he termed the oversizing of its infrastructure.

"It just feels as if Olivia is trying to manipulate the county to do something that maybe isn't in the best interest of the county as a whole, but it's necessarily in the best interest of Olivia at this time," Schleck said.

Both sides agreed that rezoning the property would not represent "spot zoning," which was alleged at a previous meeting on the issue.

Representatives of the city and Tersteeg both said they would consider the proposal by Bird Island Township to expand the allowed activities in the urban expansion zone to include seed warehouses. Olivia City Council members postponed their Monday meeting in order to attend the Planning Commission meeting discussion on the rezoning.