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BE makes it official – UHD garage must go

By Staff | Apr 5, 2010

Dan Brod

It’s official.

The United Hospital District will have to move its ambulance garage, or file for an ordinance variance to try and keep it where it is.

The Blue Earth City Council formally adopted an order on the matter at a special meeting held last Monday night.

That order included a recap of findings from a zoning appeals hearing held in February, where the City Council voted 5-2 to have the garage moved.

The formal adoption of the hearing findings and order had to be done within 60 days of the hearing date.

Since the hearing had been on Feb. 1, the order had to be adopted before April 1, thus the need for a special meeting on Monday night.

The five page document had been prepared by City Attorney David Frundt. The motion to adopt it passed by the same 5-2 margin that the original motion to move the garage had.

Mayor Rob Hammond and Councilman Glenn Gaylord were the two dissenting votes.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey told the Faribault County Register, after the meeting, that the document could become very necessary should thematter wind up in court.

“It is possible that either UHD or its contractor, United Builders, could take the city to court over this,” Bailey says. “They could sue for damages.”

At the zoning appeals meeting in February, UHD was represented by legal counsel, Walter Rockenstein, who intimated the matter needed to be on record in case court action became necessary.

He fell short of actually threatening a legal suit at the Feb. 1 hearing, however.

Bailey says the council put itself in legal jeopardy with the decision, because they reversed a previous zoning ruling and seemed to not follow their own zoning ordinance.

“What they did was not legal, at least in my opinion,” Bailey says.

Moving the ambulance garage has been a year-long saga.

As part of its hospital/clinic expansion project, UHD proposed to move the ambulance garage to a different part of their property.

The move was approved by the planning and zoning commission in April 2009.

On June 1,UHD applied for the formal building permit to move the garage to its new location, on Galbraith Street, on a new foundation and driveway.

That is when Bailey, acting as the city zoning administrator, approved the permit, allowing the garage to be located five feet from the front and side lot lines, according to her interpretation of the zoning ordinance.

When the garage was actually relocated, the front of the building was closer to the front of the lot than five feet. UHD applied for a zoning variance, to stay closer than five feet to the front lot line.

Bailey, however, determined the ambulance garage was actually an accessory use structure, and as such, no setback of five feet was required. She then amended her earlier ruling, saying no setback was needed.

“I made that determination in Decem-ber, and I still feel it was the correct one to make,” Bailey says. “The ambulance garage obviously was – and always has been – an accessory use structure to the hospital – and accessory use structures have no setback rules.”

Councilman Dan Brod did not agree. Acting as a private citizen, Brod filed a formal appeal to the zoning administrator’s ruling, bringing about the need for the appeals hearing of Feb. 1.

At the hearing, Brod said the city was doing a disservice to the residents of the area around the hospital by allowing the ambulance garage to be relocated that close to the street.

Brod said at the hearing that he interpreted the zoning ordinance to require a 25-foot front setback, and a 50-foot side setback.

The council voted to make the setback 50 feet from both the front and side lot lines. That would have placed the ambulance garage directly in the center of a parking lot area.

Instead, the UHD board has looked at three options for a new ambulance garage on campus.

“The board directed the administration to study the first option, putting the storage of the ambulances in the same emergency drop off location on the master plan,” UHD administrator Jeff Lang says. “We are still evaluating that option with the architect and the ambulance crew, to see if it can work.”

In the meantime, the two ambulances have been moved out of the garage and are currently being housed in the city’s public safety building (fire hall).

“We thought it would be a gesture of good will towards our neighbors to move them out right away,” Lang says.

Lang says he is unsure what will happen to the current ambulance garage building, or when it will be done.