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City analyzes parking problem

Parking can frustrate even the coolest of heads when trying to find a spot on a busy street while the clock is ticking. During Tuesday’s Wadena City Council meeting, the council members spent over an hour dealing with their own parking problem -- just not the kind most citizens face.

Previously, developer Kyle Davis’ plan to buy the Messiah Lutheran Church at the intersection of Jefferson Street South/Highway 71 and Franklin Avenue and then turn it into student apartments would have been in violation of city zoning code since the property is zoned as a R2 or “Multiple Family Residence District”. Davis came to the council at their June meeting to try and get the property rezoned, but the council denied his proposal 4-1, citing concerns of “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. Analysis of the situation by the city’s planning and zoning department has found that Davis can still have his apartments in an R2 zone if he builds an off-street parking space for each of the 12 residents that would live in the building. However, Davis said that buying the house adjacent to Messiah Lutheran and paving over the driveway in order to get the necessary parking spaces would cost an additional $41,000.

On Tuesday, Davis came to the council again, this time with a proposal to eliminate the space past the curb on a portion of Franklin Avenue and replace it with more paved area in order to fit spaces for nine vehicles when the cars are parked diagonally. The most recent version of the plan calls for the space from the curb to the sidewalk to be turned into parking space, which allows the sidewalk to stay. The nine spaces on Franklin combined with the three spaces to the rear of the building would make enough parking space for 12 residents, Davis said.

However, several council members voiced concerns with the practical application of the plan. Mayor Wayne Wolden pointed out that although there would be 12 spaces for 12 residents, city code specifies that the spaces need to be off-street. The nine new spaces would still be on Franklin Avenue -- a public right-of-way-- making a variance to city code necessary if the project was to go forward, Wolden said.

“It’s an intriguing concept,” Wolden said to Davis of the plan to change Messiah into apartments. “However, the trouble I have... is the precedent-setting in terms of a new establishment leasing on public right-of-way, which doesn’t fit the test in the zoning. It really doesn’t.”

Councilmember Brian Hillesland brought up the fact that the new spaces eliminate public space where local homeowners might park their cars, and asked Davis what he would do if people who were not residents of the new apartments parked in the spaces that “belonged” to the complex. Davis said his plan to control parking was to number each space and assign a resident to each, along with signs warning that nonresidents would be towed at the vehicle owner’s expense. He added that Franklin gets relatively less use when people look for places to park compared to other streets.

 Councilmember Toby Pierce was skeptical of the plan to control parking, saying that keeping residents from “stealing” each other’s spaces-- for example, when they have visitors and not enough parking is available-- would also be a concern along with nonresidents taking the spaces.

“You can’t tell me other people aren’t going to park there,” Pierce said.

Members in favor of the plan included Gillette Kempf, who said that creating more student housing in Wadena was a worthy endeavor and that the plan to create nine new spaces on Franklin was a step forward from previous attempts by Davis to satisfy city zoning code.

“Student housing is definitely something we should be looking at,” she said. “The parking solution brought to us is a creative one.”

Eventually, the council voted to hold another public hearing on the project so that more citizens have the chance to be informed of, and comment on, the plan to create new parking spaces. City Administrator Brad Swenson said that the vote meant Davis would have to apply for a variance in city zoning code in order for the hearing process to begin and a specific date to be scheduled.