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Stormy 4-3 vote approves Zorbaz project

It's been a matter of compromise, and Tuesday night, there was a bit more.

Tom Hanson, co-owner of Zorbaz laid down the law to the Detroit Lakes City Council Tuesday, and got the Zorbaz addition approved -- barely.

After an impassioned speech to the council, he demanded, and received, a vote on the proposal that very night, even though it was not on the agenda.

The presentation included speeches of support from some big guns in the business community, and an angry back-and-forth between Hanson supporters and Alderman Bruce Imholte, who came into the meeting favoring the proposal and nearly ended up voting against it.

Some background: Hanson approached the city council last September, asking to put up a temporary tent again this summer as he did last summer during the 40th anniversary. The tent idea was denied, and the city required Hanson to instead build a permanent structure.

After getting multiple variances -- waiving parking and impervious surface requirements -- Hanson was told he would have to put permanent sides on the north and east sides of the building, and would have to pay $83,000 for a parking lot at Peoples Park that would serve his purpose for parking spaces.

This month, Hanson brought plans forward that included three garage doors on the east side of the building, a contradiction to the required solid, insulated wall the council had agreed upon last month.

Before the garage doors could even be discussed, some council members shot down the idea.

So, Hanson came to the Detroit Lakes City Council meeting Tuesday night to argue his case, bringing some supporters and bringing what he said was his final -- take it or leave it -- proposal to the council.

Hanson said last summer with the tent, he hosted five major events that brought in about half a million dollars -- money that circulates through the community.

He said he pays $70,000 in property taxes, and has a payroll of about $1 million.

He continued that when he came to the city and asked for the tent, he was asked to put up a permanent structure but was promised he would be would be "fast tracked" for approval.

His basic building project as designed would have cost $75,000-$100,000, he said.

But, then he had to pay $25,000 for fire protection sprinklers inside the building, wait for the Pelican River Watershed District permit, and pay $60,000 for the walls. With the parking lot and $300,000 in other costs, he estimates the project will now cost him about $500,000.

Hanson estimates that his addition will generate about $10-$20 million over the next 20 years.

"Am I asking for any city subsidizing? No. Am I asking for any tax increment financing? No. Am I asking the city to underwrite any costs? No," he said.

He said the city needs to look to the future and the economic benefits of his building. Zorbaz has given out $500,000 over the last 40 years in donations to organizations within the city, too, he said.

"The city will benefit far more than I will," he said of the addition. "This is not about Zorbaz or about me. It's about the city."

The new steel building, he said, will be "nothing more than a sauna" if he doesn't get the garage doors he's requesting. And he said he'll donate $50,000 toward the parking lot, as he said he would from the beginning.

"There is nothing unique about my request. I'd like a vote on this tonight," Hanson said.

Before the council voted though, several people spoke on Hanson's behalf.

"Tom can deliver," said Bernie Sauer, who has known Hanson for 40 years.

He said that the city can regulate the project, but that it should go forward and give him approval.

Lakeshirts owner Mike Hutchinson said Zorbaz is a "shining star in a blighted area."

KDLM owner Jeff Leighton asked the council to look at the economic opportunity of the business and its expansion and do what it can to help the project along.

"We're talking about a known, proven commodity," he said. "It seems like a reasonable request."

Imholte, who said he's actually in favor of the garage doors, was angered by the in-your-face tone of the presentation and the fact that Hanson thinks he doesn't need the parking and that the city should pay for part of the lot.

"It's a fairness issue," he said. "When I hear him lecture about a parking lot, that gets to me."

The garage door request was a problem for Alderman GL Tucker, who said he has sat through plenty of meetings with neighbors complaining about the noise. The walls, he said, were the compromise.

"Not that I'm against Zorbaz or against development. I'm pro-development," he said, but there was a compromise that should be followed.

"There's got to be give and take on both sides, not just one," Alderman Leonard Heltemes said.

He criticized the unusual step of the council voting on a major motion that was not on the written agenda for the meeting.

Heltemes called it a violation of the state's open meeting law, but City Attorney Bill Briggs said the council is free to make motions and act on them at regular meetings, whether they are on the agenda or not.

Alderman Jamie Marks Erickson asked that the motion be read before the vote, since it was not clear what the council was voting on. She was assured the motion was only to allow the garage doors, since the other elements of the plan had already been passed.

Tucker, too, objected to the vote, noting the council members did not even have a floor plan of the proposed project in front of them.

"We've certainly been through this race a long time," Alderman Ron Zeman said, as he made a motion, which was seconded by Imholte, to allow the garage doors but to still have Zorbaz pay the projected $80,000 cost of the parking lot.

The garage doors will have to be shut when bands are playing.

In a roll call vote, the motion passed 4-3.

Imholte, Zeman, Madalyn Sukke and Dave Aune voted in favor, while Heltemes, Tucker and Erickson voted opposed. Walt Tollefson and Jim Anderson were not present for the vote.

"Well, we'll just have to wait and see what Mr. Hanson decides," Mayor Matt Brenk said.