Variance recommended for approval regarding condo idea

SPICER -- A height variance for a proposed 14-story condominium in Spicer was recommended for approval 5-2 Thursday by the Spicer Planning and Zoning Commission.

SPICER -- A height variance for a proposed 14-story condominium in Spicer was recommended for approval 5-2 Thursday by the Spicer Planning and Zoning Commission.

The vote came after about an hour's worth of comments from some of the 25 residents who attended a public hearing on the variance request. The discussion centered on whether a building that would be 186 feet at its peak would fit in with the city's character.

Avidigm Capital Group of Lake Elmo is proposing to build a 137-unit condominium building where the grain elevator stands now, west of state Highway 23 on Second Avenue.

All condos would face east and view Green Lake. The first two levels of the building would be a parking ramp. The units would range from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet and start at $199,000.

Avidigm is seeking a variance from the height at which the grain elevator now stands at 134 feet. The city's height restriction on new development is 60 feet, but the variance is from the grain elevator height because it is an existing business.


"We're starting to see projects like this come to fruition all over the state and all over the country," said John Hafner, president of Cities Edge Architects of Willmar, the project's architect. "It feels right for this site at this time to bring this feature to the community."

Those living directly behind the building don't agree.

Jerome Gunter, a Second Avenue resident, said he has a view of the lake from his second-floor window despite the grain elevator and bins. He said the condo would block the sunlight coming onto his property and make it harder for the snow to melt on the street.

"This is a small town. A lot of people want to keep it a small town and this just doesn't belong here," Gunter said.

Dick Lindahl, who lives on Third Avenue, said he can see the sunrise around the grain elevator from his home. He doesn't consider the elevator an eyesore.

"They're an eyesore to some people, but not to everybody," Lindahl said. "To me, a grain elevator looks nicer than that thing (the condo)."

Lindahl also asked how much his property taxes would increase with the building.

Ron Schneider, a Spicer councilman, asked about how the building's storm water runoff would be regulated.


Hafner said a retention pond would control the rate and quality of surface runoff from the property. The pond would be built on property owned by Mike's Dock Yard south of the elevator. It plans to purchase that property for the pond and possibly a small commercial area.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Dennis Baker said the Department of Natural Resources asked in a letter that a planned unit development evaluation worksheet be completed before the commission takes action on the variance.

The evaluation helps identify issues other than height that might not meet the city's shoreland ordinance, wrote Skip Wright, DNR area hydrologist. He also wrote that if the variance is allowed it should not exceed the existing structure's height.

Glenn Smogoleski of Spicer, who is managing this project for Avidigm, said the project would not be financially feasible if the height was reduced. If the variance is denied, one option is to lease the elevator bins to Bushmills Ethanol in Atwater, he said.

During the discussion, Avidigm said it would not be asking the city for a tax break. Avidigm representatives also said the building would add at least $800,000 to the city's tax base.

Fred Blumenhagen, who lives on Lake Avenue North, said he thinks it's a wonderful project and considers the elevator an eyesore.

"I find it funny in a sense to be arguing something like this," he said.

Commission member Riley Nelson said he likes the idea of cleaning up an eyesore, but thinks the condo is too big for Spicer and said his neighbors said the same.


He's also not sure there is a reason to grant the variance based on hardship.

Commission member Terry Holmquist said he thought the hardship was established -- that the project wouldn't be financially feasible at a lower height.

He also said the project would benefit the community by increasing the city's tax base, which would lower city taxes if the council decreases the tax rate.

The city also would receive more state local government aid if the population increased, and the condo would add more users to the Green Lake Sanitary Sewer and Water District.

Commission member Janice Carlson said she's concerned about how the fire department would respond to a fire in the building.

Earlier in the meeting, the Avidigm representatives explained that a fire lane would be built in front of the building so that the fire department's ladder could reach the roof. Avidigm is also looking at getting a truck designed to put out fires in enclosed spaces, like a parking ramp.

Baker said the building will stand out, but said he's looking toward the future of Spicer. Spicer won't go back to being a quaint town, he said.

He suggested the variance be recommended for approval at the requested 190 feet with conditions that Avidigm pays a performance bond to ensure that the project is completed, that it enters a developer's agreement with the city and that a planned unit development evaluation worksheet be completed.


Commission member Ed Holst motioned for that recommendation and Holmquist seconded it.

Commission members Baker, Holmquist, Holst, Mark Wiley and Wilkie Norsten voted for it while Nelson and Carlson voted against it.

The recommendation will go to the Spicer City Council. The earliest the council would consider it is Oct. 12.

If the council approves it, the Planning and Zoning Commission would need to approve a site plan before a building permit could be issued.

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