Ordinance creates controversy in Minnetrista

By Nicole Brodzik
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The Minnetrista City Council discussed an ordinance governing property line setbacks and new construction for the majority of their July 18 meeting.

Known as the Riparian Viewshed Ordinance, the measure is composed of three resolutions. one in particular drew the council and public’s focus at the meeting.

That component regulated mostly views of Lake Minnetonka for shoreline property owners. Citizens expressed concern that the ordinance could, in some situations, reduce the minimum distance structures must be built away from property lines. This could cause a neighbor’s view of the lake to be altered when new homes are built or existing homes are added to.

Before discussion of the amendments began, City Attorney Ron Batty said that, while the ordinances themselves have many moving parts, the decision that needed to me made by the council was actually a simple one.

“From a council standpoint, I suggest you analyze it as ‘Is there problem with ordinance?’,” Batty said. “If you say ‘yes’, does this amendment address that, or do you want to deal with it in different way?”

The major council divide was between Mayor Lisa Whalen and Councilwoman Patricia Thoele.
“I think the proposal that’s been made — I think it’s going to create more problems and I don’t think it will be fair to the existing residents,” Mayor Whalen said. “I’ve received many phone calls from residents from throughout the community, all across the city, and they were all the same. They opposed and felt that the proposed ordinance just really didn’t fit our city.”

Whalen said she felt the ordinance was over complicating a very small issue that has only come up twice in the last two years.

“I would say this is a fairly big exception,” she said. “I want to be careful we don’t make ordinances based on one situation. If we change it now, that would change the whole feel of what Minnetrista has been for the last 30 years.”

Councilwoman Thoele felt otherwise. She said she believes the amended ordinance would protect an owner’s rights to his or her property.

“If a neighboring home is unusually distant from lake, that can restrict where new homes could be built,” She said. “So I think, somewhere in the ordinance, there needs to be some sort of verbage that prevents that from happening. We want all resident who live on the lake to have a good view and not be unusually restricted by a home that was built unusually far from the lake.”

Councilman Vanderlinde also weighed in.

“What I’m concerned about is property rights,” Vanderlinde said. “I think restricting what neighbors can do with their property is not right. One person could actually change the whole neighborhood and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Thoele said she agreed with that, but also brought up the point that property owners have no legal right to the view over their neighbors’ property.

“I live on the lake and my neighbors have a row of maple trees on their property, so in the winter, we can see the whole lake, but realistically the only view we have a right to as lake-shore owners is the view directly out from your home,” Thoele said.

While the mayor acknowledged Thoele’s point, she rebutted those comments by leaning on the reaction she had received from residents on the lake.

“We don’t have to make a change,” she said. “We can make minor little tweaks, but I think it behooves us to listen to the residents.”

One such resident was Kenneth Schmeling, who expressed concern with the ordinance’s departure from similar ordinances in other lakeside cities. He also took issue with the way the amendment was worded, and said he was worried about the ability for new home owners to come in and rebuild bigger homes, closer to the lake.

“People bought homes on the old ordinances and had faith that those would be upheld,” Schmeling said. “Why are we considering a much more complicated scheme than any of our neighboring cities? I fail to understand the logic and fail to think we are smarter than the other bigger cities on the lake.”

Andrea Fell-Moody said that the amended ordinance would give a concerning advantage to new builds, and said she agreed with the Mayor’s comments.

“I think you’re spot on with your comments, Lisa,” Fell-Moody said. “If our house sells, somebody could very well tear it down and build closer to the lake and ruin our neighbors’ views. It’s totally unfair to allow that.”

After listening to public comment, the council asked to table the measure in favor of staff coming back with new alternatives at a later meeting.

Batty said he and the city staff would have to “put their thinking caps on” and would try to have a new resolution ready for sometime in September.

The next Minnetrista City Council Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 1.