South Shore Drive residents win battle against business zoning – Detroit Lakes Tribune

South Shore Drive residents win battle against business zoning - Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — A developer continues to work with Detroit Lakes city staff on property he owns off South Shore Drive — even though homeowners in that quiet part of Detroit Lakes prevailed in their efforts to stop a convenience store and mixed commercial-residential complex from being built there.

The win by homeowners meant frustration for developer Jason Gehrig, owner of Gehrig Properties, whose annexation and rezoning request was essentially shot down on Dec. 13 by the City Council, even though it followed Detroit Lake’s own growth plan — a plan that was approved just two years ago by the City Council itself.

“We’re still working with the city, trying to come up with the best possible solution,” said Gerhrig, who paid $2.4 million for the 68-acre South Shore property, including a 54-acre parcel adjoining city limits in Lakeview Township.

His development concept included a convenience store and a four-story mixed-use building off 270th Avenue, and multiple single-family houses along South Shore Drive and on a large area roughly off South Shore Drive and 270th Avenue.

That plan was developed with the help of city staff, said project engineer Jon Lowry of Fargo.

“This is a unique parcel, part in the city and part out of the city,” he told the council. “Very early on, we sat down with city staff and said ‘what do you want to see here? How do you want this area developed?’ The growth plan was put into effect in 2020 for a reason.”

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Linda Lohnes, who lives on the 600 block of South Shore Drive, was among a half-dozen or so residents of the area who spoke against the commercial aspects of the proposal. “It’s a bad idea to put a residential area behind a gas station,” she said, adding that the development “will change the entire dynamic of the neighborhood — people enjoy it as it is.”

Chuck Collins, who also lives in the area, was also against the proposal. “Spot zoning — the definition is what they’re doing right here, putting business in the middle of residential,” he said. “It’s obvious this does not fit the neighborhood plan.” He added that most people in the neighborhood are not opposed to residential growth. “Most of us are against the commercial (zoning change),” he said.

Others were dismayed that the convenience store would be built near the new city park, which could bring safety, traffic, light pollution and crime problems to the area. And they noted that traffic and parking are already a problem near the South Shore Drive public lake access on busy summer days.

Most said they were not opposed to new housing in the area, “as long as it’s not low-income housing,” one resident added.

Others pointed out that, just because the city has that area earmarked for commercial and high-density residential, the City Council still makes the final call.

Detroit Lakes needs to grow to the south, said Alderman Dan Josephson. The city is kind of bottle-necked by Floyd Lake to the north, Long Lake to the west and other issues to the east, he said. The city “can’t grow in those directions,” he told the group. “The logical place to go is to grow south.”

Josephson said he lives in the area and rides his bicycle on South Shore Drive regularly, and doesn’t believe the proposed development will cause problems for residents. He noted that many were opposed to the new park there, before it was built. “Has the park ruined the neighborhood?” he asked.

“I’m not happy when I hear the words ‘subsidized housing, government housing, low-income housing,’” he added. “Do we only want a bunch of rich people in this area? We want to have all sorts of people in this community. We want to be welcoming. We want to grow businesses, and we also want to be welcoming to developers — last month we said no to a big development (on East Shore Drive). We said no to their money, we said no to apartment builders, we’ve said no, no, no.”

Alderman Aaron Dallman saw things differently. “This town has an identity crisis going on right now,” he said. “These people don’t want a convenience store in their neighborhood — there’s enough convenience stores in this town,” he said. “We need to start respecting the residents in this town as far as what they want in their neighborhoods … Build the homes, get rid of the commercial — that’s where I’m at.”

Boeke said, “it’s a good project, that’s what makes it so tough.” He said he has heard from just as many people who support the development as those who oppose it, but the supporters didn’t show up at the meeting. “If the developer decides to pull out and not annex into the city, we lose that tax base, and the (subdivision zoning decision) falls to the county and township regulations, which everybody knows are much looser and willy-nilly than the city’s — so we could have six high rise apartments, we could have 64 storage units — what’s the lesser evil there?”

Alderman Ron Zeman opposed the development. “Well here we go again,” he said. Last month Eventide came before the city with a request a build a large four-story complex on East Shore Drive, roughly across from the Fireside restaurant. “And where do they want to put it — right next to houses,” he said. “I’m not against businesses, but I’m against where they want to place them … a strip mall and a gas station is not the setting you want to have in anybody’s neighborhood or lakefront.”

Alderman Wendy Spry said that, like Zeman, she supports more homes being built, and said she wants to keep Detroit Lakes inclusive and affordable for young people, but is concerned about protecting the lake, and about maintaining the existing neighborhood on South Shore Drive. “It’s a really difficult decision … but there’s room for improvement in the design, and I may have to vote no,” she said.

Josephson moved to approve the annexation request, but in the end, he and Matt Boeke were the only council members to support it. The motion failed 5-2, with council members Ron Zeman, Jamie Marks Erickson, Wendy Spry, Aaron Dallman and Madalyn Sukke voting against it. Council members Dan Wenner and Natalie Bly did not attend the Dec. 13 meeting and did not vote. The city planning commission earlier voted against the annexation request as well.

Technically, the council declined to hear the first reading of an ordinance for the annexation of a 54.54-acre tract in Lakeview Township, “and zoning the tract “R-2” One and Two Family Residential District, “B-2” General Business District, “LB” Lakefront Business District, and “R-A” Residential Agricultural District at 557 South Shore Drive and 270th Avenue.”

So what now? “To some degree, it’s back to the drawing board on what that development plan looks like,” said City Administrator Kelsey Klemm. “He wants to develop the property, and staff will continue to meet with him and work on it.”