WORTHINGTON — The Worthington City Council revisited its interim ordinance Monday night that prohibits non-profit land uses in commercial zones.

The council passed the interim ordinance at its Sept. 28 meeting after learning that Independent School District 518 was considering the purchase of the former Shopko building for use as a community education facility.

"I was born at night, but it wasn't last night," said Jason Brisson, Assistant City Administrator/Economic Development Director, on Monday. "I know this is a political issue."

He asked the council to consider, however, the impact of its earlier action.

When city staff receives a conditional use permit (CUP) application, Brisson explained, state law says that the city has to complete the whole process within 60 days, which effectively gives staff about a week to do the research required to bring the CUP before the council.

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In cases like the potential Shopko purchase, a week just isn't enough for staff to gather the needed information, so the interim ordinance passed at the last council meeting was needed to help with that, he said.

However, Brisson added, "I have some concerns about the city council blurring their legislative actions with their administrative actions."

If the council is opposed to all land uses of non-profits within commercial zones, then it should change the city zoning ordinance to reflect that, he said. But there are other places in the city where non-profits operate within commercial districts, and those haven't been questioned so far.

"The reality is, it's been picking favorites ... and I'm not sure that's the most prudent way for the city council to administrate the zoning ordinance," Brisson said.

He asked for a new interim ordinance granting a temporary moratorium on non-profits in commercial zones for the purpose of giving staff time to study the city's zoning ordinance and consider changes that would better reflect the council's zoning philosophy. For example, it might make sense to label non-profits more specifically, so that certain non-profit uses may be acceptable in commercial zones, but not others.

After hearing Brisson's request, the council unanimously approved the interim ordinance.

Inoperable vehicles and junkyards

Council members also discussed at length a proposed text amendment to the city code to address complaints about auto repair businesses accumulating a large number of inoperable vehicles on their lots.

The amendment would require any auto repair service that has inoperable vehicles onsite to erect a six-foot screening fence to hide the vehicles from public view. Up to six inoperable vehicles would be allowed inside the fence at any given time; more than that (or any inoperable vehicles stored outside the screening fence) would allow the city to pursue junkyard status for the business. The amendment would also change the definition of "inoperable vehicle" to mean a vehicle with a registration that has been expired for 90 days or longer, rather than the current 30 days.

Council member Alan Oberloh noted that a Minnesota state statute prohibits a junkyard from existing within one-half-mile of a trunk highway, suggesting that if that language were to be included in the city's text amendment, the law might be easier to enforce.

The council wrestled with this idea for a while but couldn't come to a conclusion. Legal counsel present at the meeting wasn't familiar with the state statute, so the council tabled the proposed amendment to give the city's attorney time to study that particular statute.

Also during Monday's city council meeting:

  • Council granted a CUP for a ballroom/dance hall in the former Worthington Sports Center building at 703 Oxford St.
  • A text amendment was approved that opens up the Bioscience Drive area for other types of development besides biomedical research.
  • A first reading of a text amendment to impose regulations on mobile food units passed unanimously.
  • Council approved the final plat of the DK Addition across from Rising Sun Estates.
  • 9 a.m. Nov. 13 was designated as the time for the city council's post-election canvass.
  • Council approved a professional services agreement with Braun Intertec for environmental consultation on the city's field house project, which will cost an estimated $34,480.
  • Council members agreed to pay the remaining balance ($51,846) of the planned Fitness Court on the Minnesota West campus. Funds will come out of local option sales tax dollars, as the city's aquatic center project will require the destruction of the current outdoor workout area and necessitate a new one.
  • A bid for Phase 1 of the field house construction was awarded to Tri-State General Contracting, Jackson, at $1,709,999, about $163,000 lower than the architect's estimate.
  • After a public hearing, council passed a first reading of an ordinance to vacate an alley next to Panda House.
  • After a public hearing, council approved assessments for sanitary sewer, paving improvement and water main improvement in select areas of town, as well as unpaid charges related to snow, solid waste or noxious weed removal.