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Zorbaz addition debate continues

It comes down to fairness. And who is defining fair.

The Detroit Lakes Community Development Committee met Thursday afternoon to discuss the Zorbaz addition issue one more time before it goes before the city council Tuesday evening.

Owner Tom Hanson has been appearing before the council and committees since January, asking for several variances for an addition to the Detroit Lakes Zorbaz.

The planning commission denied the original plan. Then the city council sent the issue back to the planning commission, pointing out what needs to be changed for the issue to move forward. The planning commission met, rehashed the issue and approved the council's recommendations. Now the community development committee says there are too many issues surrounding the project and upped the cost for Hanson.

In order to construct a 2,800-square-foot addition to Zorbaz, Hanson is requesting a variance for parking requirements, setback requirements and impervious surface limitations.

The planning commission voted to approve the project with the stipulations of getting Pelican River Watershed District permits, providing parking either onsite or working out a lease agreement with another entity within 700 feet and enclosing the north and east side of the addition to help with a sound barrier.

Zorbaz impervious surface is at 56.7 percent, nearly 22 percent over the allowable 35 percent for commercial properties. With the addition, it will be at 62.5 percent. Hanson said that's a moot point though since his parking lot is already considered pervious and the addition will simply be going where the pervious parking lot already exists.

Which comes back to the parking issue.

Zorbaz has 20 onsite parking spaces. With the size of the existing building, plus the addition, the business should have 189 spaces onsite. It will have five. The city, though, is asking for 78 spaces -- 63 for the addition and 15 for those that will be lost due to the expansion.

With plans to move the Lincoln skating rinks over to Peoples Park this summer, the city has discussed parking needs in that area and the expansion of Phinney Avenue. To help his project along, Hanson offered to pay $50,000 of the estimated $150,000 of the parking lot at Phinney Avenue.

At the Thursday meeting, Community Development Director Larry Remmen told eight of the nine city council members in attendance that he had received a letter from Pelican River Watershed District Administrator Tera Guetter that said she had concerns over the impervious surface and stormwater treatment.

Zorbaz has an underground treatment plan in place. Remmen said that just because the planning commission is OK with the treatment plan doesn't mean the PRWD is, but Zorbaz would have to have permits before building.

Hanson said that Ulteig Engineers said the treatment plan can work and be designed to PRWD specifications.

Alderman Bruce Imholte said he couldn't approve the plan without the parking issue being taken care of first.

"As a city, we need to support our business," Alderman Ron Zeman said.

Not disputing that, Imholte said there's a fairness issue though. What business wouldn't like the city to build a parking lot for them, he questioned.

With the city facing other financial hardships, he said a parking lot at Phinney Avenue wouldn't be the first thing the city would put its money into, regardless of if Zorbaz needed the space or not.

"I'm happy to have parking there as long as Zorbaz can get it there," Imholte said.

City Administrator Bob Louiseau said the city likely wouldn't expand the Phinney Avenue area this year, but possible next year. Instead, the city will likely just plow the street this winter for parking at the skating rink.

A partial construction of the street -- just expanding the existing street as opposed to a complete redo of the street -- is estimated at $128,872. The breakdown is about $83,000 for the actual lot, and $45,000 for stormwater treatment for the lot, which comes out of a fund that everyone in the city contributes to.

Imholte said besides Hanson needing to pay the $83,000 for the parking lot, he should be assessed a monthly fee because since the lot isn't on his property, he wouldn't have to pay for any upkeep on the lot.

Louiseau said the committee, and ultimately the council, could approve the variances for Zorbaz without approving the parking lot because the motion for Zorbaz says the business needs to find 78 spaces within 700 feet.

Alderman GL Tucker said he didn't feel the Becker County Fairgrounds was a viable option for parking and purposed changing it to within 500 feet of Zorbaz.

"There's clearly a noise issue," he added. "That was a huge issue there," he said of the planning commission meeting, which he also chairs.

There is a possible $300 fine for violating the noise ordinance.

A couple of men who had spoken at the planning commission meeting also spoke at the CDC meeting to say the noise was just too loud in that area. Neighbor Bob Merritt said he can understand Fourth of July and other holidays, but every weekend is too much.

He added that he understands wanting to support businesses, but what about supporting the residents as well?

"I don't think anything is going to make it perfect," Tucker said. Even if nothing is done to the building, he added, there is still going to be a noise issue.

Tucker proposed not only having the north and east walls on the addition but also a wall to the east of the existing portion. Hanson agreed that he could do that.

He continued that he didn't complain when the city doubled the liquor license fee at the first of the year. Plus, he was asked to testify before state legislators in favor of the half-cent food and beverage tax the city wants.

He said his business makes up 25 percent of the city's food and beverage sales, and this half cent would generate about $20,000 from him a year.

"Big picture, I think I've been an awfully good citizen," he said. "There's a point where we stop. If you don't think it's going to be beneficial long-term, I'll withdraw (my request)."

"Are we better with or without the business?" Zeman asked. "You're kidding yourself if you think we don't need parking down there."

After more than an hour of discussion, Alderman Madalyn Sukke said it basically came down to if Hanson puts up the $83,000 for the entire parking lot, the city would likely approve the variances. If he won't pay, the project wouldn't go forward.

"We all want to expand business in town, but it's a fairness issue," she said

When asked what he thought, Hanson said if the proposed half-cent food and beverage tax goes through, he wouldn't pay the $83,000. If it didn't go through, he would consider it.

"You're talking about money and fairness, I agree with that," he said, "but talk about fairness."

He said that the council members are talking about fairness with the parking lot issue, but how fair is it that specifically the food and beverage establishments are being taxed and the money will go to benefit everyone, not those establishments alone.

Zeman, the lone supporter of the project as is, said that the city has made Hanson jump through too many hoops.

"As many variances as is being asked, it's not too many hoops," Remmen countered.

The Community Development Committee left the meeting saying that the city would likely allow the variances with the agreed upon conditions if Hanson is willing to pay the $83,000 for parking at Phinney Avenue.

The city council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.