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Development project faces expensive zoning setback

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After the Wadena City Council voted 4-1 to deny a rezoning of Messiah Lutheran Church into commercial property, developer Kyle Davis vowed to continue his plan to turn the building into student apartments -- even if it costs him an extra $40,000 to do it.

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According to a petition filed by the church in support of rezoning, Davis is in the process of buying the property in order to satisfy a “huge demand” for student housing in Wadena by transforming the church building. The land is zoned as an R2 or “Multiple Family Residence District” but sits on Jefferson Street/Highway 71 where it intersects with Franklin Avenue; just south of a C1 or “Commercial Use District”.  Findings by the Planning Commission said that under city code, the Messiah Lutheran property could still be turned into apartments as a residential zone, but it would need off-street parking spaces for each of the 12 students that would live there. As it stands now, there are only 5 spaces.

Davis said that that he is negotiating with owner of a house next to Messiah to buy the neighboring structure, demolish it and replace it with a parking lot. This would satisfy the city code requirement for parking, but comes with a hefty price tag: over $41,000 to get rid of the house and pave the driveway, Davis said. After the council denied the rezoning, Davis said he had expected the vote not to go his way and that he would continue to work on the parking-lot plan.

“It’s just another problem that needs to get solved,” Davis said. “I’m staying positive; I knew it was an uphill battle, no surprise.”

One of the city council’s objections to changing Messiah from residential to commercial property was that it would constitute “spot zoning”, or changing one plot of land in a way that allows a certain use of that land without allowing the same use in the surrounding plots.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said switching Messiah to commercial property would in fact be spot zoning, a practice he is against.

“I don’t support it,” Wolden said. “I think it’s bad practice and it shows preference, or prejudice, to a specific person or institution.”
Also speaking out at the meeting were homeowners who live near Messiah and were  against rezoning, saying among other concerns that it would allow apartment tenants to usurp the parking in front of their houses.

“Quite honestly folks, I lived in the Twin Cities for 30 years, I lived near Macalester College -- I know what it’s like to not be able to park in front of your house,” said concerned homeowner Leann Scalia. “It’s miserable, and I would hate to see that happen in Wadena.”   

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