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City council OKs zone changes, movie theater site

The proposed location of the entertainment spec building, including a movie theater, and the accompanying extension of Cecilee Street (both in red). (Graphic by Leah Ward)

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington City Council discussed a number of requests for zone changes during its regular meeting Monday night.

Golden Horizons

Council members heard a third reading of a request to change the zone of the property occupied by Golden Horizons Assisted Living from medium density to high density in order for the facility to add 16 units of memory care.

Council member Larry Janssen has voted in opposition to the rezone at each reading based on concern that the landowner, KC Properties, did not make a sufficient attempt to acquire more land before attempting clearance for its addition.

At Monday’s meeting, council member Alan Oberloh also voted no.

“I just think that’s too much building for that property,” said Oberloh, who had previously expressed concern about the site plan. He voted yes on the first and second readings — with the caveat that property owners look into purchasing the 50-foot strip of land to the east of the property, which belongs to Homestead Co-op.

Oberloh explained that before Monday’s vote, he learned that KC Properties had no plans to purchase the adjacent land.

Meanwhile, the other three council members — Chad Cummings, Amy Ernst and Mike Harmon — voted in favor of the change of zone. City code requires a two-thirds supermajority for a change of zone, so it appeared Monday evening that the third reading had failed.

However, Director of Community Development, Planning, Zoning and Building Services Jason Brisson explained Tuesday that staff met with city attorneys Tuesday morning and learned of a state law, the Municipal Planning Act, which states that — with the exception of a change of zone from residential to commercial or industrial — a simple majority is sufficient.

Brisson said that another Minnesota city experienced an almost identical circumstance, wherein city code required a 4-1 vote for zone changes and the council voted 3-2. That city declared the motion failed, but that ruling was challenged.

When the case was brought to the Minnesota Attorney General, the Attorney General clarified that the Municipal Planning Act supersedes city code, thus upholding the 3-2 majority vote. Worthington city attorneys interpret the law the same way in the case of Monday’s vote, Brisson said, meaning that the third reading actually passed.

Brisson explained that the concerns maintained by Janssen and Oberloh can still be addressed as KC Properties continues the planning process. The owner will need a conditional use permit, which still requires at least a 4-1 vote.

Movie theater building

Council members also approved a first reading of a request to change the zone of property south of Interstate 90 and north of Darling Drive, which continues from an extension of Grand Avenue heading north to property owned by Worthington Christian School. This parcel of land has been selected for a 28,000-square-foot entertainment spec building that would include a movie theater.

The land is currently in a medium-density residential zone and would need to be a general business zone in order to allow the entertainment building.

In order to accommodate traffic, plans would include extending Cecilee Street to connect with Grand Avenue. This would create 18 additional residential lots on Cecilee Street.

During its May 7 meeting, the Worthington Planning Commission voted to recommend that the city council not approve the zone change. Council member Amy Ernst, who sits on the planning commission, explained the planning commission’s concern — although she voted to recommend approval.

Typically, Ernst said, cities plan for a buffer between business districts and residential areas — a practice that protects against noise and traffic. The land in question is surrounded by residential zones, so placing a business zone there would be atypical.

Council members, though, disagreed with the planning commission’s recommendation based on a number of factors.

“This property, to me, stands out” from the other options, said Mayor Mike Kuhle, citing the additional traffic safety and residential space an extension of Cecilee Street would bring.

Kuhle also pointed out that an entertainment building like the one planned would not create much outside noise, so neighbors would not be disturbed.

Council member Chad Cummings agreed with Kuhle’s assessment that the neighborhood would be safer.

“Over and over and over again we’ve heard people want (a movie theater),” added Cummings, who recommended taking the opportunity to provide the amenity.

When it came to a vote, approval was unanimous.

Council members also approved a conditional use permit for the spec building on the land in question, and voted to buy the land from owner Kelly Properties.