SUNFISH LAKE PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING – OCTOBER 21, 2015
7:00 P.M. - ST. ANNE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Chair: Andrea McCue
Commissioners: Tom Hendrickson, Shari Hansen and Dan O’Leary
City Planner: Michelle Barness
City Clerk: Cathy Iago
Commissioner Ginny Beckett was absent
1. CALL TO ORDER: Chair McCue called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m.
2. ADOPT AGENDA: Chair McCue asked if there were any additions to the agenda and there was no response.
Commissioner Hendrickson moved to adopt the agenda, seconded by Commissioner Hansen and carried. (4-0)
3. APPROVE MINUTES SEPTEMBER 16, 2015: Chair McCue asked if there were any additions or corrections to September 16, 2015 Planning Commission minutes.
Chair McCue noted there were a few grammatical changes but they did not change the substance of the discussion. She asked if there were any other corrections and there was no response.
Commissioner Hansen moved to approve the September 16, 2015 Planning Commission minutes with the grammatical corrections, seconded by Commissioner O’Leary and carried. (4-0)
4. Major Site and Building Plan Review and Variance, 27 Sunnyside Lane, Julie and Tom Hurley: Chair McCue asked the Planner to review the application for the property at 27 Sunnyside Lane. She advised that after the Planner’s presentation the floor would be open to the public for questions or comments. She asked that anyone wishing to speak at the public hearing state their name and address for the record.
Planner Barness stated that the applicants are requesting approval of a Major Site and Building Plan review and a Variance to allow the construction of a new home at 27 Sunnyside Lane. Applicants wish to demolish the existing home and build a new home at approximately the same location on the site and a Major Site and Building Plan review is required for building alterations exceeding 1, 000 sq. ft. in area. She further explained that a variance is also required for two separate issues; 1) a portion of the home will intrude in the required Shoreland and side yard setback areas and, 2) the lot does not meet the minimum required net lot area requirement. She explained that the applicants are also requesting a variance to permit redevelopment of a substandard sized lot that will contain a home that does not meet setback requirements.
The Planner explained that the property has Lake Frontage on Sunfish Lake and is subject to both the R-1 Single Family Residential and Shoreland Overlay District standards of the Zoning Ordinance. She noted that the City Engineer had requested additional information from the applicants during his initial review of the project and she distributed a memorandum from the City Engineer dated October16, 2015 which advises that the applicants have addressed his previous concerns, with a few exceptions, and stated his recommendation for approval with conditions as listed in the memorandum.
Planner Barness stated that the gross of the platted lot is 3.38-acres, however, once the steep slope and wet areas (including the lake) are factored in, the property is unable to meet the minimum net lot area requirement of 2.5-acres. However, she explained that Minnesota Statutes allow that a single non-conforming lot of record located within a shoreland area may only be allowed as a building site without variances form lot size requirements if structure setback requirements are met. Since this is not the case, the applicants are also requesting a variance from lot area requirements to be able to redevelop the parcel. She advised that she would discuss the variance requests separately.
The Planner displayed a graphic of the site which showed that all setbacks are met with the exception of the side yard on the north of the parcel and the shoreland setback. She stated that the building height requirement is met. She noted that the proposed pool is considered an accessory structure and meets ordinance standards for setbacks (apart from the variance from shoreline setback being requested), safety features, size limitations and treatment of pool water. She noted that no other detached accessory structures are proposed.
Commissioner O’Leary commented that the proposed location of the new home would actually be setback farther from the lake than the existing home.
Planner Barness agreed that would be the case.
The Planner advised that the proposed building materials include copper paneling and stucco siding, and stone. A sample of the proposed copper paneling was presented for the Commission to view. She noted that a more thorough review would be conducted with the building permit application.
Planner Barness explained the existing circle driveway at the front of the home would be removed and a smaller drive constructed in its place that consist of pavers in the entryway area and bituminous surface to match the existing grade and construction where it meets the street. She also noted that the exterior lighting proposed meets ordinance requirements and provided drawings showing the proposed lighting. She advised that the ordinance requires that the lighting which casts any light on residential property or over public water shall not exceed one foot candle, a standard that must be met upon installation.
The Planner stated that the City Engineer had reviewed the Grading, Drainage and Erosion Control plan and requested the applicants address concerns with the initial plan as listed in his report dated October 5, 2015. She explained that the applicants had submitted a revised set of plans in response to the Engineer’s comments and referred the Commission to the Engineer’s memorandum dated October 16, 2015 in which he recommended approval of the application subject to conditions and submission of information prior to issuance of a building permit.
Commissioner O’Leary asked if the Engineer’s conditions are included in the Findings of Fact and the Planner responded yes and explained that she referenced the Engineer’s report dated October 16, 2015 in the Findings.
Planner Barness stated that the applicants had submitted a landscape plan showing the removal of twenty-one (21) trees within the construction zone and protection for all remaining trees. She advised that the City Forester walked the site with the applicants to discuss tree removal and preservation and recommended approval of the plan. She noted that the applicants will continue to work with the Forester to insure the health of site trees and to further discuss preservation or removal of any trees. She stated that staff asked the applicants to submit information demonstrating where natural vegetation currently exists on the slope to the lake and where no mow fescue lawn or grass will replace natural vegetation. She noted the percentage of lawn with the shore impact zone (within 100 feet of the Ordinary High Water Mark - OHWM) may not exceed 20% and intensive vegetation clearing in bluff or shore impact zone is not permitted. She explained that the landscape plan contains a variety of plants that meet standards and that the applicants propose to install eighteen (18) replacement trees.
The Planner advised that no fencing is proposed and that the applicants must provide engineered plans for any retaining wall over 4 ft. in height to the City Engineer for his review and approval. She further explained that the applicants plan to remove the existing well and replace it with a new well. She further advised that the existing septic system will be removed and a new system will be installed near the intersection of the driveway and Sunnyside Lane. She stated that the City Septic Inspector recommended approval of the proposed primary septic location and a condition of approval requires the applicants to comply with the Septic Inspector’s recommendations for treatment of the existing septic areas and installation of the new system on the property.
Planner Barness advised that staff found the site and building plan evaluation criteria had been met as it pertains to
the following: 1) compatibility and harmony with existing structures in the surrounding community, 2) preserves the character and nature of the community including natural landscape and woodland characteristics, 3) building materials are not unsightly and meet standards; 4) do not adversely affect any natural resources in the community, 4) will not negatively impact adjacent properties and 5) complies with drainage requirements. She stated that the new home had been designed and sited to minimize impacts on the lake and surrounding properties and that it is setback further from the lake than the existing structure. She noted that its single story design is anticipated to reduce the visual impact and the home will be partially screened by existing and proposed tree cover.
Commissioner O’Leary asked if the applicant plans to remove any additional trees from the site and the landscape architect responded no.
Planner Barness commented that this would be the first new home constructed that is required to have a sprinkler system installed.
The Planner stated staff found the Major Site and Building Plans meet all criteria and building standards and recommend approval subject to conditions are listed in the draft Findings of Fact dated October 21, 2015.
Chair McCue asked if the applicants had any additional comments.
Gabriel Keller, architect for the project, stated that the Planner had provided an excellent overview of the proposal. He referred the Commission to the site drawings and explained that there was extensive study of the site in order to find the most appropriate placement of the home on the property. He noted that the “mass” of the proposed structure on the site was substantially decreased from the existing structure. He stated that natural materials were utilized to minimize views and visual impact on surrounding properties. He also noted that the one-story design of home minimizes the visual impact, however, the designs needs to be spread out on the lot, which resulted in the encroachment on the setback.
Chair McCue pointed out that the vegetative buffer that currently exists between the lawn and lake acts as a natural rain garden and asked if the applicants plan to maintain the buffer.
Tim Johnson, Landscape Architect for the project, explained that the plan was to maintain the buffer and to maintain and improve with better plantings the existing vegetation on the bank of the slope. He commented that the property currently is overwhelmed with invasive species and the former property owner only maintained the lawn around the home, which the new owners plan to continue.
Planner Barness referred the Commission to the variance request as listed in her staff report dated October 14, 2015 relating to factors to determine “practical difficulties” that would prohibit reasonable use of the property, use of the property in a reasonable manner, or alters the essential character of the locality. She stated that the requested variances are to permit a portion of the proposed home to intrude into the required shoreland and side yard setback areas and to construct a new home on a substandard sized lot when the resulting structure cannot meet all setback requirements. She referred the uniqueness of the lot with the sloped area and advised that the applicants attempted to place the home in the same area as the existing home and to preserve the setback from the lake. She noted that the home is comparable in size to others around the lake and advised that the driveway grade would be exceptionally steep if the home were moved any further from the lake. She advised that the applicants conducted a study that was attached to her report and found that 42% of homes surrounding the lake are the same size or larger, and 41% of homes around the lake are built within the required 200 ft. setback. She referred to page 7 of her report that outlined the applicant’s rationale for the request meeting variance criteria. She also advised that the City Forester recommended that some significant trees could be saved by moving the home slightly to the north on the site.
The Planner advised that staff recommended approval of the Variance requests as they would not alter the essential character of the locality, that the single story design reduces the overall visual mass of the home, although it requires a larger site footprint, the applicants propose to use the parcel in a reasonable manner, is consistent with the spirit and intent of the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance, and approval of the variances is not anticipated to impact the character of the locality.
Resident Henry Pabst sked to see the location of the drainfield and Mr. Keller showed the location on the site plan.
Resident Dr. Lamey commented that septic systems usually last only 20 years and asked where the second location for the septic system would be located on the lot.
Nate Wissick, Project Architect from Elevation Homes, explained that he has been working with the Septic Inspector to verify an area for the secondary field. He commented that it was his understanding that the previous duration for a septic system was 30 years and it may be longer based on new technology.
Dr. Lamey asked if the system could be placed on the lakeside of the property and the Planner responded that it would have to maintain a 150 feet setback from the lake. She offered to ask the City Engineer if a secondary location would be necessary.
Mr. Keller explained there was additional land for a secondary septic location and showed the area on the site plan.
Resident Arnie Svendsen asked the total square footage of the proposed home and, if the non-conforming lot was a legal lot of record could the City approve increasing a non-conformity. He also asked if the new home would be built into the slope.
Mr. Wissick stated if would be approximately 6,000 sq. ft. with 4,300 sq. ft. above ground.
Planner Barness explained that it is a legally non-conforming lot and that if the variance is approved it would slightly reduce the setback distance from the original home not increase the non-conformity. She commented that the home is larger than the existing home, but the setback from the lake would be increased slightly.
Mr. Keller explained that the new home would be set into the area of the slope near the garage of the existing home.
Commissioner O’Leary thanked Mr. Keller for the documented analysis of the properties around the lake. He explained that he recently attended training for Commissioners relating to planning and zoning and in his opinion it may be appropriate for the City to review the setback regulation if 41% of the properties around the lake are built within the 200 ft. setback.
Planner Barness agreed and explained that she was not employed by the City when the 200 ft. setback was established, but it may be appropriate to research the rationale for the requirement.
Commissioner O’Leary stated that he supports the request after viewing the site and plans for the home. He pointed out that the one story structure has lower visibility on the lakeside of the property than the existing home and it is also placed closer to the road on the lot.
Commissioner Hansen agreed and commended the architects for an excellent job working within the confines of the lot to establish the best location for the home to minimize its visual impact.
Planner Barness explained that the proposed draft findings she distributed relate to approval of both the major site and building plan and the variance application so that the Commission could recommend approval of both with one action, or she could draft a separate set of findings for each application. She requested the applicants to bring samples of the building materials for Council to review and that they prepare and submit a response and plan for vegetation alteration on the lakeside of the property prior to the Council so that she may prepare her report. She further asked that the applicants work with the Septic Inspector to determine a secondary location for the septic system if necessary. She advised that the conditions included in the Findings of Fact include adhering to the foot candle measurement upon installation, pre and post construction site visits, adherence to the City Engineer’s recommendations for construction as addressed in both his reports and that they must obtain a building permit prior to commencing any construction.
Chair McCue asked if there were any further questions or comments and, hearing no response, closed the public hearing.
Commissioner O’Leary moved to recommend approval of the Major Site and Building Plan and Variance application for property located at 27 Sunnyside Lane based on the Findings of Fact and conditions as listed in the Findings dated October 21, 2015 and conditions listed in the City Engineer’s reports as referenced in the Findings of Fact, seconded by Commissioner Hendrickson.
In discussion, Commissioner Hendrickson asked if the applicants had submitted a Stormwater Management Plan.
Planner Barness explained it was submitted, but due to the volume of documentation, she notified the Commissioners that they could view it online.
Chair McCue asked if there was any further discussion, and hearing no response she called the question.
Motion carried. (4-0)
5. Alternative Energy Systems Ordinance Amendment Discussion: Chair McCue opened the Public Hearing for discussion of the Alternative Energy Systems Ordinance Amendment and observing that there were no audience members present, closed the public hearing. She asked that the Planner review her report.
Planner Barness referred to her report dated October 14, 2015 and the draft ordinance she prepared relating to Alternative Energy Systems. She explained that Council directed staff and the Commission to develop an ordinance amendment which would address and regulate alternative energy systems that may include wind, solar, and geothermal (ground source heat pump). She stated that these systems are not currently addressed in the City’s ordinance and, therefore, are by default not currently permitted. She explained that the directive was instigated by requests from residents for such systems and it appears that interest in alternative energy systems may likely grow in the future as these technologies become more available and economical.
The Planner reviewed the purpose of the alternative energy system ordinance as listed in her report and explained that discussion at the last two Commission meetings related to what standards should be established to regulate the alternative energy systems. She noted that the Commission questioned whether or not the City is required to permit solar, wind and geothermal energy systems and she found that because the State has not established zoning requirements for wind or geothermal systems, it is her understanding that the City is not required to permit these uses. She also noted that she spoke with a representative from the Division of Energy Resources with the Minnesota Department of Commerce and it was suggested that communities provide the opportunity for these energy options despite the fact that they may be more or less practical in individual situations.
Planner Barness suggested that the Commission discuss the draft ordinance amendment to determine if extensive revisions are recommended which would prompt the continuation of the public hearing or find that only minor revisions are recommended and proceed to recommend approval with the changes and forward the amendment to Council.
Commissioner O’Leary commended the Planner for an excellent job in researching and compiling information for their review and for preparing the draft ordinance amendment document. All the Commissioners agreed that the Planner had done an excellent job in providing a wealth of information for their discussion and review.
Commissioner Hansen explained that she had concerns relating to the Wind Energy Systems and questioned if the Commission took action to recommend that it be deleted from the amendment, how difficult it would be to include it at a later date. She stated her concerns relate to noise, height, and danger to birds. She further commented that she was not opposed to the use of wind turbines in commercial districts, but she was unsure how effective the turbines would be in residential areas and may have a negative impact on surrounding properties.
Commissioner O’Leary questioned if the City had the ability to prohibit the wind turbines.
Planner Barness explained that the wind energy systems would effectively be prohibited by not including them in the ordinance.
Commissioner O’Leary asked the Planner to clarify that if the wind energy systems are excluded, the City would not be in violation of State law.
The Planner agreed that his statement was correct.
Commissioner Hendrickson commented that wind energy systems are not currently regulated by the State and if the City includes them in the ordinance they may have to amend the regulations if State legislation is adopted in the future.
There was discussion relating to what height would be required for the turbines to be effective in residential areas and if they should be restricted to the 30 ft. height regulation for housing structures.
Commissioner O’Leary noted that the rotor blade must be 30 ft. from the ground therefore the maximum height of the turbine at 30 ft. would not work.
The Planner suggested the Commission could consider allowing only the roof mounted turbines for residential areas and explained that some cities prohibit the ground mounted turbines. She commented that some people wish to supplement their home energy costs with a small roof mounted turbine. She noted that the Commission should adopt rationale if they wish to prohibit the wind energy systems.
There was discussion regarding how high above the roof line the turbines would have to be placed to work effectively.
Planner Barness explained that there is an exception in the City’s current zoning ordinance that allows mechanical items to be placed 5 ft. above the 30 ft. structure height limitation in residential area. She commented that some cities allow the roof mounted turbines to be 8 ft. above the regulated roof height.
Chair McCue asked if a resident would have to obtain a variance to extend the structure beyond the 5 ft. exception and the Planner responded yes.
Commissioner O’Leary asked what would happen if an application is submitted for a wind turbine and it is not regulated in the ordinance.
Planner Barness explained that if a use is not permitted or identified in the City Code it is by default prohibited.
Commissioner O’Leary stated he would favor restricting the roof mounted turbine height until more information regarding the system is available and commented that there are too many variables at this time.
Commissioner Hansen and Chair McCue agreed.
There was discussion regarding the fact that there are many variables for each residential site location within the City such as lake views or wooded views and Commissioners determined they would prefer not to include the wind energy systems within the ordinance amendment at this time.
Planner Barness suggested that the Commission consider findings to support their decision for excluding the wind systems.
Commissioner O’Leary had several questions relating to the draft ordinance amendment:
Ground Source Heat Pump System - Section 1:
Item 1 - What is “food-grade” antifreeze? It is a product that is not harmful to persons or animals.
Item 3 – What is the rational for limiting the system to no more than twenty feet below the land surface?
Planner Barness was unsure why it was limited to 20 ft. and offered to check on this matter prior to Council review.
Commissioner Hendrickson commented that it may be due to the fact there would be no increased benefit from going deeper.
Commissioner O’Leary questioned if restricting the solar panels to 10-inches above the roof height was realistic.
Planner Barness explained that she could check to insure that was not an unrealistic regulation, as it appears to be incorporated into several of the sample ordinances from other cities.
There was discussion regarding the nameplate for the small wind turbine under the “definitions” and possible setback restrictions for the ground mounted wind turbines. The Planner indicated that the “100kW” nameplate relates to the typical standard small turbine. She explained that the normal setback for accessory structures in the City Code is 25 ft. and asked if that would be appropriate for inclusion.
Commissioners agreed that the 25 ft. setback would be appropriate.
There was discussion relating to the noise limit for wind energy systems.
The Planner explained that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency noise standards outlined in Minnesota Rules Chapter 7030 state the noise may not exceed 65 decibels.
Chair McCue commented that the Commission appears to be in agreement that the wind energy systems should be excluded from the proposed ordinance amendment at this time until more data and information relating to their use is available.
Commissioner Hansen referred to page 7, Item D.1.c.6. which stated that the wind energy system does not have any adverse impacts on the area, including health, safety and general welfare for surrounding properties and it was her opinion that may not necessarily be true.
After discussion, the Commissioners agreed on the following as the basis to support their decision to recommend excluding Wind Energy Systems from the ordinance amendment:
1. As a small community and a Tree City, with heavily wooded areas it is appropriate to maintain that ambiance in the
2. Given the current technology, the height required for a wind turbine to be sufficiently productive would most likely
have a significant visual impact and a negative impact on aesthetics that are a vital concern to most residents; and,
3. The State of Minnesota currently does not regulate such energy systems and, therefore the Commission agreed it
would be advisable to wait for such guidance from the State as it has far greater resources to conduct research in
this area prior to its adoption of state-wide regulations.
Commissioner O’Leary questioned why the height limitation for ground-mounted solar energy systems was limited to sixteen (16) ft. versus 30 feet for the main housing structure.
Planner Barness stated that 16 ft. is the height limitation for accessory structures in the residential district. She explained that in talking to companies who install the solar ground panels, she was told that most panels would not exceed 16 ft. in height.
Commissioner Hansen noted two minor errors. She suggested that the word “Chapter” be changed to “Section” and one of the numbering systems was in error.
Commissioner O’Leary explained that in reviewing the “Abandonment” paragraphs for both Ground Source Heat Pump and Solar Energy Systems he would recommend including language that may assist the City with enforcement issues. He suggested the following language and that the City Attorney review it prior to sending to Council:
“If the property owner fails to remove the abandoned system within 30 days after receiving notice from the City, the City may hire a contractor to remove the system and charge the expense to the property owner. If the property owner fails to make payment, the City may charge the cost to the properties taxes as a special assessment.”
The Commission discussed the time-frame to comply after receiving the notice and concurred that 90 days may be more appropriate for removal of such systems based on weather conditions and other factors.
Chair McCue asked if there were any further questions or discussion and there was no response.
The Commissioners again thanked the Planner for an excellent job on the proposed ordinance amendment.
The Planner advised that she would make the recommended changes to the draft ordinance amendment and send it to the Commission for their review prior to submitting it to Council at their November meeting if they wished to see the changed document.
Commissioner Hendrickson moved to recommend exclusion of the Wind Energy Systems from the Alternative Energy Systems ordinance amendment based on the discussion this evening, and to change Section 1230.03 to “Solar Energy Systems” and eliminate Section 1230.04, to eliminate language pertaining to “Windy Energy System Related” under Section 1202.02 (Definitions) and to include language under the “Abandonment” paragraphs for both Ground Source Heat Pump and Solar Energy Systems as discussed, seconded by Commissioner Hansen and carried. (4-0)
Commissioner Hendrickson moved to direct the Planner to incorporate the changes discussed by the Commission this evening into the Alternative Energy Systems draft ordinance amendment and to prepare the document for presentation to Council as the Commission’s final draft recommend for adoption by Council, seconded by Commissioner Hansen and carried. (4-0)
ADJOURN: Chair McCue asked if there was any further business and there was no response.
Commissioner Hansen moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:45 p.m., seconded by Commissioner Hendrickson and carried. (4-0)
Catherine Iago, City Clerk