On July 11, the Park Rapids Planning Commission considered a new application by Gregory Parsons for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to operate a bar at 1012 Birch St.
Parsons, who currently operates One More Club at 1400 1st St. E., previously applied for a CUP to move the bar to the same address with seating for 42 patrons.
According to city planner Ben Oleson, Parsons’ initial CUP application was denied by city council on May 24, when Parsons failed to produce the planned stormwater management plan.
At that time the planning commission had recommended on condition that the bar had a parking space for two, which would have required additional parking at the rear of the building.
Parsons and Oleson told the planning commission that because of the increased impermeable cover for the additional parking, Parsons should have provided a system to prevent stormwater from running off his property. However, they explained, Minnesota Power did not respond when asked if it would allow the system below its overhead power lines and within a few feet.
The CUP’s initial request also agreed to limit the bar’s opening hours to between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Parsons’ new request offered to accommodate up to 22 customers and extend hours to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Commission members noted that fewer seats would mean Parsons would need to work overtime to earn money, but without additional parking spaces he would not need to provide a stormwater management plan.
They also noted that the seating capacity at the bar is not the same as its occupancy limit, which remains at 42 according to the state fire marshal. Oleson agreed that people could stand at the bar, as it will have the same space despite the reduced seating capacity.
Commission Chairman Robb Swanson expressed concern that customer parking is overflowing onto the street, where parking is illegal. He informed Parsons that he should watch this carefully.
Before opening a public hearing on the matter, Swanson reminded a dozen affected residents that neighborhood opinion is not a legal basis for a decision whether to grant a CUP, and any decision not based on City code criteria may be subject to legal challenge.
Among the comments of local residents:
- Steven Peloquin said, “This company doesn’t belong here.” He argued that the bar should limit its operation when other businesses in the neighborhood are open. Peloquin urged the commission not to allow anything to be built behind the property.
- William Fitch has ridiculed the idea that limiting seating will prevent more customers and their vehicles from coming to the bar. He urged the commission to continue the hearing until all conditions are met. “Last time was a fiasco,” he said. However, Swanson noted that Parsons cannot carry out any work on the site until a permit is approved, although it may be required to submit a plan to meet the conditions. Meanwhile, Parsons complained he “wasted $1,500” on a storm drain plan he couldn’t use without Minnesota Energy’s approval.
- Lovette Smith expressed concern about late weekend hours and increased intoxication and traffic in the neighborhood. She also asked about noise controls. Council member Liz Stone said the city’s noise ordinance goes into effect at 10 p.m.
- Jessica Mjelde described the neighborhood as “tangletown” with winding streets and no streetlights. She envisioned issues with drivers encountering children walking and biking on the street.
Commission member Scott Hocking pointed out that the concern about vehicles and foot traffic on the neighborhood’s narrow, poorly lit streets applies at all times, not just because of the proposed bar.
“If you park a vehicle on that street, everyone has to drive around,” he said. “It is not designed to have off-street parking.”
“If we allow 11 parking spaces, it’s not really up to us to worry about how Mr. Parsons screens customers and where they park,” Stone said. “That will become his problem.”
Parsons reminded the commission that there was a municipal parking lot nearby, near Hatch Avenue.
Based on the Detroit Lakes experience, Swanson said food and drink establishments in residential neighborhoods can work.
Commission members followed Oleson’s recommended conditions, including limiting hours between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. every weekday.
Swanson and Stone sympathized with Parsons’ request to extend Friday and Saturday hours to 1 a.m. Johnson was ambivalent, but said he couldn’t justify opposing the extended hours. Hocking and commissioner Nancy Newman agreed.
“We can’t sit here and make a decision just because we don’t like something,” Stone explained.
“You have to put some facts behind it,” agreed Hocking. “Right now there is no fact not to support it on Friday and Saturday until 1am”
Swanson suggested other ordinances, such as the noise ordinance, would keep neighborhood issues in check. Board members agreed to revise the condition at Parsons’ request.
Regarding a condition that Parsons submit a parking plan before council action, Oleson asked if Parsons’ 11-space plan, based on a sketch by city engineer Jon Olson, would be sufficient. This plan calls for staff to park in the building’s garage, potentially blocked by customers.
Stone said she personally checked that the site had 11 parking spaces, including a handicapped space, and said it was up to Parsons to decide whether he wanted customers to block access to his garage.
The condition also required “traffic aisles” for loading and unloading and the flow of traffic. Oleson said he believed the loading and unloading would take place outside office hours.
“The food truck and the drink vehicles are going to appear when they show up,” Swanson said, “and it’s going to happen between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. This truck is probably going to park in the road while it’s unloading, and that’s is something for us to consider. Without that rear parking lot and driveway, there is no room for that truck.
Stone suggested placing the loading-unloading area at the west end of the building and adding a condition that nothing happens at the rear. She said there would be room for a truck to stop without encroaching on the property line setback.
Oleson suggested leaving the state as is and waiting for a scale drawing to show the parking area and the unloading area. He said he wouldn’t have to be prepped by an engineer.
Regarding the condition limiting the space open to customers to 2,000 square feet, Oleson said that would actually require a variance and suggested changing it to 1,600 square feet, which meets the ordinance’s requirements. The members of the Commission agreed.
They also discussed a condition requiring a six-foot fence, which Oleson said was a holdover when a rear parking area was planned. Swanson said if he was a neighbor he would want a fence as a buffer.
Noting that a five-foot fence is already there, Stone suggested lowering the height requirement, adding that if the fence is on neighbors’ property, Parsons must also install a fence.
In another condition related to parking, Stone suggested deleting a reference to “approved street parking” since no parking is permitted on Birch Street. Oleson said the intention was to allow parking in appropriate areas, including Birch Street if it is widened to allow on-street parking.
However, Oleson suggested adding “in striped and paved parking spaces” to the on-site parking clause, to prevent customers from parking on grass.
Stone also noted that customers could park in the nearby town lot. Oleson suggested adding “or other public parking spaces.”
Turning to findings of fact, panel members concurred with staff findings supporting CUP’s approval with the amended terms.
Stone moved a motion to recommend City Council’s approval of the CUP with those terms, and the motion passed with Hocking abstaining and no dissents.
City Administrator Angel Weasner said council would likely act on the CUP’s request at its July 26 meeting.