Plat of land presents tough decision

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 27, 2003

A little section of vacant land has led to a large amount of discussion and will be a topic at tonight’s city council meeting.

The plat, or small piece of land, is located on the Fountain Lake Pointe Subdivision near Bayview/Freeborn Funeral Home and is currently owned by Michael Development Company.

Michael Development considered a couple of design options for the subdivision. In 1999, the company wanted to build three residential complexes, two 24-unit assisted living residences and a 50-unit apartment building. These facilities would be an addition to a residential building that had previously been built directly north of the funeral home.

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Two of the four-unit complexes were built and another is under construction, but, due to steep expenses, the company could not build the apartment building. Consequently, the developers wanted to amend the zoning of their plot of land. This would enable them to sell to another developing company the plat that was originally zoned for the 50-unit apartment building.

They company took the request to amend to the planning commission, which denied the request on Oct. 9.

This request must be reviewed by the city council. According to City Manager Paul Sparks, the council can do one of three things. It can approve the request, deny it, or table it.

If the council approves it, they might receive negative feedback from nearby residents. According to the minutes of the planning commission, some people attended the meeting to ask that the commission prohibit the apartment building from being constructed. The residents were concerned about the increase in traffic in the area, because future apartment-dwellers would have to drive on the roads surrounding the current housing facilities to reach the apartment building.

The concerns of the residents appear to be irrelevant because the commission was not approving or disapproving the construction of the apartment building. However, if the owner of the land is allowed to sell the plat, residents could perceive that the apartments might be built sooner than if the land could not be resold.

The second option for the city council is to deny the amendment. However, according to Sparks, the city would need a legal reason to deny it. One example of legal justification for denial is if the land had not been zoned for apartment use. Another example is that the planners of the apartment building did not provide adequate parking for all residents of the apartment building. However, both of those legal arguments are moot, because the land was previously zoned for the specific purpose of building apartments, and because the plans allow for adequate parking space.

If the city council denies the request, without legal justification, the council could be taken to district court. Sparks predicts that the city would lose the case and might even be required to pay punitive damages, that is, extra money paid to the plaintiff, in this case Michael Development, for doing something that the city knew was unjustifiable.

The final option for the city is to table, or postpone, the decision. However, there is a law that requires land use actions to be decided within 60 days of the application for action, filed by the landowner. The 60-day time limit runs out between today’s city council meeting and the next meeting. Once that happens, the requested action automatically takes effect, which means that, in this scenario, the company can sell the land.

(Contact Benjamin Dipman at or at 379-3439.)