Crisp questions councilors' motives
April 29. 2014 1:33PM
A proposed ordinance to allow sheds and unattached garages to be built in front yards has officials at Dell Rapids City Hall butting heads.
The City Council here has worked for months to find a way to allow Dell Rapids resident Rick Zwart to build a 3,200-square-foot accessory structure in his front yard at 1001 west 15th Street.
But alderman Mark Crisp said any new policy allowing the building of accessory structures in a lot’s frontage would likely have unintended consequence, and too many people on the council stand to gain from the change.
“There’s going to be sheds popping up all over town and people are going to be upset,” he said.
Crisp said any vote of approval from himself or councilors Lee Burggraff and Craig Lauritzen should be considered a conflict of interest, because he and Burggraff own properties in Dell Rapids that could be made more valuable with the addition of a shed or detached garage. Lauritzen owns a lot abutting his residence at 110 High Prairie Drive and, Crisp said, has interest in building on the property.
“It’s wrong. The whole thing is wrong,” he said. “Lee has a whole handful of (properties) that he wants to get this done for.
“And I’m having a difficult time selling lots, so guess what I’m going to do now? I’m going to go in and apply for sheds on those lots,” Crisp added.
Any plans to take advantage of a proposed ordinance don’t bar aldermen from casting a vote, said Dean Hammer, city attorney. As long as it doesn’t directly relate to their property and there is no direct monetary gain, he said, Lauritzen, Burrgraff, Crisp and all other members of the council can offer their vote.
“Generally we rely on individual council members to voluntarily step away on any issue that may be a conflict of interest. In this case, I would say that because it is a general ordinance that is citywide, that does not disqualify Lee or Craig from voting,” Hammer said. “If it’s specific to their property, they can’t vote on it, but if it’s a change in zoning law, they’ve got just as equal right for an opinion as anyone else at the table.”
Lauritzen said he might like to build a shed on the lot next to his home, but that has no bearing on how he plans to vote on any ordinance change. Any vote he casts is with the community’s interest in mind, not his, he said.
Burggraff disputed Crisp’s accusations, saying none of the properties he owns would benefit from allowing sheds and detached garages to be built in front yards. Furthermore, he said he’s not sure he supports changing existing city code.
“The more I think about it, the more I don’t agree with it. If we have an ordinance in place, we should probably live by it,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to gain by passing this and I’ve got no property that this will work for.”
Last week, the city council, with just five of eight members present, voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance that would allow the planning and zoning commission to grant special use permits to residents wanting to build in their front yards. The proposal, ordinance 792, also allows accessory structures larger than 1,200 square feet to be built with a conditional use permit. Existing code prohibits accessory buildings larger than 1,200 square feet in residentially zoned neighborhoods.
Burggraff, Lauritzen and Gary Haak were the aldermen not present at last week’s meeting.
Although the measure got a majority vote from the councilors present, council bylaws require ordinances be passed with a majority vote of the council, not a simple majority of the council present.
“Because they didn’t receive at least five votes, they’re not technically passed,” Hammer said. “Any vote on an ordinance requires at least a majority of all aldermen to approve it. If you only have five at the meeting, all five have to vote yes.”
Ordinance 792 will be revisited at the City Council’s meeting Monday at City Hall.