LINO LAKES — The City Council unanimously voted to deny two variances in the St. Clair Estates neighborhood at its July 8 meeting.
The first variance was for curb cut/driveway width and the second one for impervious surface coverage.
Driveway width variance denied
City Planner Katie Larsen explained the property owner submitted a land use application for a curb cut/driveway width variance requesting a 34-foot curb cut/driveway width be allowed. Currently, city ordinance allows for a maximum width of 26 feet.
According to the city, Sharper Homes was issued a building permit in May 2018 to construct a new home at 6626 Enid Trail in the St. Claire Estates subdivision. The certificate of survey submitted with the building permit indicated a proposed curb cut/driveway width at the right-of-way line of 25.5 feet. Larsen said the grading as-built survey dated Nov. 1, 2018 indicated the constructed curb cut/driveway width at 34 foot, 8 feet wider than allowed.
The parcel is a 16,139-square-foot corner lot on a platted cul-de-sac. The paved road and curb are approximately 60 feet from the lot (right-of-way) line. The existing driveway is 34 feet wide at the property line and tapers to 20 feet at the curb. “There are four lots that have the same situation and they all have compliant driveways,” Larsen said.
Since March 2018, the city has held builders’ workshops in early spring to educate builders/ contractors on the city's ordinance.
On June 12, the Planning and Zoning Board unanimously voted to recommend the council deny the variance. “I could completely see (granting a variance) if they physically couldn't have a driveway that was compliant and functional, but the plans submitted clearly show a functional and compliant driveway is possible,” Larsen said.
Councilman Michael Manthey explained, “The amount is off compared to what we have seen in the past. When we have given chances for an opportunity to stay with what they have, it has been only inches compared to feet. This was a very big mistake,” he said. Larsen added the council has previously granted driveway width variances for 8 inches and 2 feet, but never 8 feet.
“We really didn't have a play in how this driveway was constructed ... I don't know why it got put in the way it did, but we did not direct the builder to put in a bigger driveway,” property owner Adam Neeck explained. “We understand ordinances and the reasons for a specific driveway ... all of these reasons for the ordinance don't necessarily comply for our specific situation.”
Adam's wife Rebecca added, “The big difference (between the comparable driveway and our driveway) is the functionality, which is my best guess for why the pavers put the driveway in the way they did, because (with) the comparable you come straight into the house and into the driveway. Ours, there is no possible way to come in straight from the cul-de-sac.”
Mayor Jeff Reinert said, “If that was my house, I would probably be arguing the same point you are making. Our issue is everything we do is setting a precedent for everything that can be done and argued in the future. So if somebody else comes in and doesn't have this unique situation, they will say, well, you did it for them. It is hard to then argue against that.”
Rebecca wondered whether the city would consider creating a maximum width for a four-car garage, versus two- or three-car garages. Reinert said he would support having that conversation, but Community Development Director Michael Grochala explained that most cities have a set driveway width regardless of the size of the garage.
“We allow the driveway to be as wide as the garage once it is on the property. It is a requirement that it nets downward as it approaches the public right of way to a uniform width. We want that uniform width regardless of garage size,” Grochala explained.
Following denial of the variance, Grochala said they would like to see the problem corrected this construction season. Reinert directed city staff to continue working with the property owners on the best solution to bring the driveway into compliance.
Additional impervious surface denied
The property owner of 6650 Enid Trail, Sharper Homes, submitted a land use application for an impervious surface coverage variance. The company is requesting an impervious surface coverage of 43.7% be allowed, but the city’s Shoreland Management Overlay ordinance allows for a maximum impervious surface coverage of 30%.
Sharper Homes submitted a building permit application in April to construct a new 5,030-square-foot home (2,512-square-foot basement and 2,518-square-foot main floor). Larsen explained the approved grading plan for the lot included a house pad measuring 65 feet in width by 55 feet in depth with the garage/driveway on the south side. The proposed house plan is 64 feet in width by 75 feet in depth with the garage/driveway on the north. This creates more impervious surface.
Councilman Rob Rafferty said, “The houses are getting larger and the lots are getting smaller ... putting a 2,500-square-foot home on a lot that size, that's a lot.” Manthey added, “In the early stages of this development, there was a lot of back and forth about how many lots to squeeze into that property and we did our best to be pretty open-minded about the size and how many lots we would need. For them to now come back to us and try to put a house on a lot that should be twice as big ... in my mind, that is just crazy.”
Kari Clark, of Sharper Homes, said, “My client worked for six to eight months dreaming up this house and so when we learned that it didn't comply, that is when the discussions came about to ask for the variance. The real hardship is that I am on a contract with a client and we didn't know that this ordinance was going to hit. We built at least eight houses in this development that didn't hit the 30%.” She added, “What I was proposing to do with this variance is to do a pervious driveway and sidewalk; that will get us down to 34.7%. It would get us a substantial amount of the way there, more along the lines of the other eight that were approved accidentally.”
Larsen said pavers and raingardens are not conditions that would apply to the variance. “It is true there were several homes built that were slightly over the 30%, not 40% or 43.7%. Pavers, raingardens, stormwater ... they are just not relevant to this lot. There are other lots that are 10,800 square feet that do have compliant homes on them.”
The variance was ultimately denied. Manthey said, “We love big beautiful homes, but this lot just can't handle that one. We don't want to be taking away from people making their dream home, but putting it on a lot that is too small isn't good for the city.”
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.