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Council reverses rental property decision for disabled veteran

Vietnam War Navy veteran Brian Fraser with his dog. He lined up several witnesses to help make his case and was able to convince the Detroit Lakes City Council on Tuesday to let him stay in his home. Meagan Pittelko/Tribune1 / 3
A side view of the cabin off Elizabeth Street. Meagan Pittelko/Tribune2 / 3
Brian Fraser outside his rental unit that opens onto an alley behind Elizabeth Street in Detroit Lakes. Meagan Pittelko/Tribune3 / 3

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—After the firestorm of controversy that erupted following the Detroit Lakes City Council's July 11 decision to revoke a rental registration for an Elizabeth Street property — owned by a 70-year-old woman and rented by a disabled veteran — the council opted to reconsider that action on Tuesday.

Though Laurel Carlson, the owner of the rental unit at 327 Elizabeth Street, will have to complete a checklist of improvements to the property in order to bring it into compliance with the city's building codes, if she completes that checklist by Dec. 31 (or sooner), her rental registration will be reinstated.

"There are nine items that must be corrected to meet our (rental property) standards," said Alderman Ron Zeman prior to making the motion in favor of reinstating Carlson's ability to rent the property — pending completion of the required improvements.

The rental registration for her property will only be re-issued if she makes the required improvements — including painting the outside of the property, adding more smoke detectors and replacement of outdated electrical outlets — by the deadline, Zeman added.

After the council voted unanimously to approve Zeman's motion, spontaneous applause erupted from several members of the audience.

The council's decision to reverse its earlier action came after Carlson presented letters from two former tenants of the Elizabeth Street unit who had rented it prior to 1968, when the city's rental zoning ordinance was first enacted.

Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk was quoted in a June 16 newspaper article stating that the council would consider "grandfathering in" her property if she were able to present evidence of its use as a rental unit prior to 1968.

Those letters, written by current Ponsford resident Linda Anderson and North Shore Drive resident Dennis Meyer, were submitted by Carlson on Aug. 2.

"I am writing to support Laurel Carlson in her effort to be able to continue to rent out the property at 327 Elizabeth Street," stated Anderson in her letter. "My grandparents, Rudolph and Alma Bunkowski, bought the 325/327 (Elizabeth Street) property in 1962, the year my family and I moved to Detroit Lakes. My mother, siblings and I moved into 325 that year. My grandfather died in 1963. That same year my grandmother moved into the apartment behind our home, now listed as 327. The building was not a garage when we moved there... It was already a comfortable space ready for my grandmother to live in."

In his letter, Meyer said, "I rented a sleeping room at 325 Elizabeth from Alma Bunkowski, beginning sometime in 1965 and ending in November of 1966. I was married on Nov. 6, 1966, and at that time moved into Alma's apartment at 327 Elizabeth. My wife and I lived there until sometime in 1970, when we purchased a home on Acorn Lake."

The council had originally voted to revoke Carlson's rental registration because the unit at 327 Elizabeth, which is attached to a garage on the property, was considered to be a "nonconforming use" under the city's rental zoning ordinance — and because Carlson's property was not of sufficient size to include two rental units (she is also renting out the basement of her home at 327 Elizabeth).

"It would continue to be a nonconforming use," said Community Development Director Larry Remmen at a Monday meeting of the Community Development Commission, where Carlson's request to allow the rental "as a legal, nonconforming use" was first considered.

The issue was whether the evidence Carlson presented was sufficient for the CDC to recommend that the council grant her request — which it did, after a short discussion. The council subsequently voted to go with the CDC's recommendation.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454