WHITE BEAR LAKE — A newly approved amendment to White Bear Lake’s municipal code lays out a process through which residents can learn about and provide feedback on potential development projects well before such projects commence.
The amendment adds a pre-application concept plan review process to the city’s existing development review protocol.
That process includes a neighborhood meeting that developers would host to gauge interest from nearby residents regarding the proposed project and answer initial questions those residents might have.
The goal of the meetings is to engage members of the public early on before developers formally submit applications for their projects and give residents ample opportunity to voice concerns, ask questions and learn about such projects. Developers then can take residents’ feedback into account to decide whether or not to move forward with the project or modify their vision for the project.
Developers would have to hold neighborhood meetings if their proposed projects require conditional use permits or rezoning applications located adjacent to or within any portion of a residential district. Such projects could include the following:
• Public or semipublic recreational buildings and neighborhood community centers.
• Public and private educational institutions for grades elementary to high school.
• Religious institutions.
• Non-city governmental and publicly regulated utility buildings and structures.
• Commercial outdoor recreational areas, including golf courses and clubhouses or country clubs.
• Private stables and animal hospitals with overnight care and similar uses.
• Elderly housing and nursing homes.
• Office structures located in preexisting institutional housing, offices or schools.
• Hospitals, medical offices and clinics.
• Retail commercial activities.
• Buildings combining residential and nonresidential uses.
Residents who live near the proposed project site must be mailed a meeting notice and invitation to attend 10 days in advance of the meeting as well as contact information for the developer. Meetings must take place after 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and not conflict with holidays, major political party events or elections.
Smaller project applications at individual residential properties would not need to go through the neighborhood meeting process. Those types of projects include day cares, home occupations, second curb cuts, earth-sheltered homes and home accessory apartments or accessory dwelling units.
Projects at residential properties would still require public hearings before the city’s Planning Commission — and giving notice of such hearings to their neighbors — followed by review and approval from the City Council, according to Community Development Director Jason Lindahl.
After neighborhood meetings, developers would have to present their project plans to the city’s Planning Commission and then the City Council before submitting a formal project application. The Planning Commission and City Council presentations would each be open to the public.
The city has used neighborhood meetings for previous development projects, though there wasn’t a formal process that laid out clear standards and protocols for developers to follow.
Mayor Dan Louismet called the amendment a “win-win” because of how it gives residents advance notice of potential projects and allows developers to see if their projects would have support in the community or not.
Council Member Kevin Edberg took issue with the statutory requirement regarding public notices for neighborhood meetings, which states notice must be given to residents who live within 350 feet of projects that involve rezoning. He argued that distance isn’t enough, and recalled two previous instances in which the 350-foot requirement was used to give public notice about projects.
“It was grossly, thoroughly and tumultuously inadequate for the noticing that was done at two locations on County Road E,” Edberg said. “There was visible, tangible anger.”
He also said the goal of the public notice procedure is to empower citizens to use the city’s regulatory process to defend their interests. He acknowledged the city has to balance the interests of businesses looking to invest in the community and the interests of residents; however, he said the city tends to be better at informing developers about the regulatory process than it is at informing residents.
City Attorney Troy Gilchrist clarified the 350 feet was for situations in which 5 acres or less of property would be rezoned and that communities can set higher distance requirements if they choose. “It's just a question of how much more do you want to go,” Gilchrist said.
Lindahl also clarified that the statutory requirement allows for flexibility depending on the size of the proposed project, and if the 350-foot radius would have an irregular shape. If the latter were the case, adjacent property owners could also be invited.
Louismet and Council Member Bill Walsh agreed 350 feet wouldn’t be sufficient for large projects and that flexibility would be needed when it came to providing public notices.
City Manager Lindy Crawford added that the city will post the amended ordinance on the city website and copies of it in the city office. The city also will summarize information from the amendment in layman’s terms to make the process even easier to understand.
In other action, the City Council:
• Held a public hearing regarding a resolution to vacate easements on properties at 3600 and 3646 Hoffman Road. An affiliate of Schafer Richardson is redeveloping those properties into a 244-unit apartment complex in two four-story buildings. City planning and engineering staff have reviewed the properties and found no public purpose for the easements. The council then approved the resolution after hearing no public comments during the hearing.
• Held a public hearing regarding the issuance of general obligation capital improvement plan (CIP) Bonds Series 2023A and the adoption of an amended capital improvement plan. According to Finance Director Kerri Kindsvater, the amendment authorizes additional bond funding of $3,765,000. That is to make up the difference from the previously authorized bond amount of $14,315,000 to equal the needed sum of $18,080,000. The council then adopted the CIP. It also authorized Ehlers to assist in the 2023A general obligation CIP bond sale and work with city staff in preparing the official statement for the bond issue and established Feb. 28 as the meeting for considering the bond sale proposal. Feb. 28 will also be the date for awarding the bond sale.
• Approved the following council member appointments: Bill Walsh as a representative to the Ramsey County League of Local Governments and the Metro Purple Line Corridor Management Committee, with Steven Engstran as his alternate to the former and Kevin Edberg as his alternate to the latter; Dan Jones as a representative to the Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization, with Walsh as his alternate; Heidi Hughes as a representative to the Ramsey County Dispatch Policy Committee and the Northeast Youth and Family Services, with Jones as her alternate to the policy committee.
• Appointed GDO Law as the city attorney-prosecutor with a yearly contract of $136,000. Heather Monnens will serve as chief city prosecutor. The council also appointed municipal law firm Kennedy & Graven as the city attorney and counselor with a monthly retainer of $3,634. Troy Gilchrist will serve as lead attorney.
• Appointed Jim Rathburn for another year as the administrative hearing officer with a 3% increase for an hourly rate of $37.13.
• Designated the White Bear Press as the official publication for 2023 at a rate of $22.32 per column inch for legal publications. That’s a 4% increase from 2022’s rate.