Detroit Lakes City Council tables neighborhood commercial zoning, expected to reevaluate proposal in May

Members of the Detroit Lakes City Council tabled a motion for a first reading of a contentious new neighborhood commercial zoning category during their most recent meeting on Tuesday, April 11.

IMG_3724 (2).JPG
Members of the Detroit Lakes City Council and city staff conduct a regular meeting at the Becker County Courthouse on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — A first reading of a new neighborhood commercial zoning category for Detroit Lakes was tabled during a meeting of the Detroit Lakes City Council on April 11.

The new zoning category would allow for R-2 residential constructions and some small business types to be in the same zoning district. City staff said the new zoning would bring the city into agreement with its comprehensive plan and provide a buffer between neighborhoods and businesses.

Some council members felt the proposal was too restrictive for developers, who may pass on building in Detroit Lakes for cities with fewer zoning restrictions.

"Maybe we should be talking about a gas station — because this would be the tool to regulate what a gas station could look like in neighborhood commercial," said Dan Josephson, alderman third ward. "There is a process for rezoning and it goes through the planning commission. It goes through public hearings and we don't just plop down neighborhood commercial in somebody else's backyard ... and, if we are going to neighborhood commercial exactly like R-2 (residential), then why have R-2 and why have neighborhood commercial? Why don't we put (gas stations) back in what was proposed in original (draft) to the planning commission?"

IMG_3732 (2).JPG
Dan Josephson, alderman third ward, speaks during a meeting of the Detroit Lakes City Council on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Josephson also said he grew up on East Shore Drive and used to ride his bike to the nearby Castaway Motel to get candy and baseball cards. He said the road was narrower back then, but the childhood trips to the neighborhood business didn't "ruin" his life.


"I didn't get run over," said Josephson. "It isn't bad to have these tools in our box."

In contrast, Ron Zeman, alderman first ward, described the zoning category as a betrayal of residential neighborhoods and homeowners who have made long-term investments into their homes.

IMG_3750 (2).JPG
Ron Zeman, alderman first ward, reads a prepared statement during a meeting of the Detroit Lakes City Council on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Most of the residents that live in R-2 (residential) housing districts want to come home to peace and quiet, away from work-life and commercial businesses, they don't want to go home and live in that environment," said Zeman.

In recent months, he added, two large developments were proposed, an Eventide retirement community on East Shore Drive and a mixed commercial-residential project on South Shore Drive, and both were met with disapproval from the nearby lakeside neighborhoods.

"Detroit Lakes currently has a huge housing shortage for all income levels, whether it's workforce housing or high-end housing," he said. "But we have more than enough vacant lots, though, for commercial businesses, whether it's on Highway 10, Highway 59 or Highway 34, we have many empty lots and many buildings that are sitting empty that could use the business, but we do not have these businesses coming forth."

He then advised city staff to spend their time concentrating on the housing shortage instead of a new type of mixed-commercial zone.

Members of the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission heard more than two hours of public comments concerning the proposed ordinance during their most recent meetings in March and advanced the proposed zoning to the council on a unanimous vote.

IMG_3765 (2).JPG
Shaun Carlson, alderman first ward, speaks during a meeting of the Detroit Lakes city council on April 11, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"Personally, I feel we stripped this back to the point of being so restrictive that it's not useful," said Shaun Carlson, alderman first ward and chair of the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission. "But, I also feel we did a great job of listening to our residents, taking out the things that were most controversial, namely the gas stations ... this neighborhood commercial zone is in our comprehensive plan and we haven't defined what that means. So, we are doing a disservice to developers that potentially want to come into our community."


He also said the different business types allowed in the proposed zone are designed to serve residents, so they don't have to drive greater distances to receive the services they are seeking.

Carlson also reiterated Josephson's point that the new zoning isn't going to be automatically applied anywhere in the city, and the rezoning process gives residents a chance to voice their opinions during the hearing process for any potential zoning changes.

Matt Boeke, alderman third ward, said he wished they had this new zoning category when they reoriented Highway 10, which could have limited a full-size Holiday gas station that abuts an R-2 residential district.

"Could something smaller, or better have fit there?" said Boeke. "Maybe, maybe not, I don't know. That's gone."

Boeke then moved to table the first reading of the new zoning category, which was approved unanimously by the City Council.

The Detroit Lakes planning commission is expected to revisit the proposal during its April 27 meeting and the full City Council is also expected to readdress the issue during its meeting on May 9.

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
What To Read Next
Get Local