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St. Paul Park City Council cool to marina request

This St. Paul Park building houses two businesses not allowed under the property's current zoning. Hidden Harbor Marina owners are asking for rezoning so they can continue to rent the property to small businesses. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

A request by owners of Hidden Harbor Marina for a zoning change allowing them to rent space in an accessory building near the Mississippi River is hanging by a thread after the St. Paul Park City Council tabled the request last week.

Tim Kennedy, one of the partners who own Hidden Harbor Marina, rented space in a marina accessory building to a masonry company and a roofing company, according to City Planner Nate Sparks.

Kennedy was notified by the city that the two businesses are not allowed in the marina zone. When the situation was not rectified, the marina was cited and summoned to court, according to City Administrator Kevin Walsh.

To settle the dispute, Kennedy applied for a zoning change, only in the area in and around the building, to make the businesses legal.

All of the marina property is within a critical river corridor, administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Sparks told council members that the DNR sent the city a letter stating it would not approve the zoning change. The St. Paul Park Planning Commission also recommended the city deny the change.

Mayor Keith Franke asked why a neighboring auto parts yard doesn't violate the zoning. Sparks said the business is grandfathered in as a legal non-conforming use.

Kennedy said he's heard nothing from the DNR. He said it's in the best interest of the city to have businesses and it was his intent, when his partnership acquired the property three years ago, to rent to businesses.

"If neighbors have a problem, they can call me," he said.

Kennedy wants to help start-up businesses that are now sharing a copier and office supplies.

Ron Lischeid, who said he's been in the auto parts business for 40 years, said other businesses similar to those renting at the marina are not in areas of the city zoned for those uses.

The marina needs the cash flow from building rentals because shortly after the owners bought the property, there was a downturn in the economy and several floods.

The income would allow the partners to make changes in the property that the city has recommended.

Lischeid wants to have a truck rental business alongside the other two businesses and sell tires. He would also do occasional auto repair.

The only uses that are allowed in marina zone are those related to boating such as small stores, book shops and bakeries, Sparks said.

Council member Jennifer Cheesman said, "setting legal problems aside," that she doesn't have a problem with changing the zoning.

"It's no different than a refinery," she said.

"The fight isn't ours to have," she added. "They'll have to deal with the DNR."

If the city approves, there will be trouble with the DNR and defending the decision isn't a good use of taxpayer money, Franke said.

"Maybe Kennedy can deal with the DNR," he said, "but I'm betting it will be a losing battle."

Sparks and Walsh said if the council approves new zoning the city could run into difficulty in securing DNR approval during the next round of comprehensive plan revisions.

Council member Sandi Dingle said Friends of the Mississippi River have talked to the DNR that won't allow the change.

"I don't know why we're talking about this," she said.

Kennedy said he would talk to the Friends of the River. "The last time I talked to the DNR, it was fine," he said.

Council member Tim Jones said having businesses there on a temporary basis for five years makes sense, but he's opposed to a zoning change.

The matter was tabled until an upcoming council meeting.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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