View of the rear Southeast Alley behind the HIS Store and Grass Run Farm.
View of the rear Southeast Alley behind the HIS Store and Grass Run Farm.

A conditional use permit (CUP) forwarded by the Spring Grove Planning Commission was the subject of a Spring Grove City Council public hearing on March 20.

The issue was whether to grant Grass Run Farm, located on South Division Avenue, a CUP to temporarily maintain an attached storage unit on their property.

The Planning Commission recommended eight conditions be attached to the CUP.

First, the cold storage container is the only accessory building allowed and a trailer parked closer to Southwest Alley is to be moved within 10 days.

Secondly, Grass Run Farm should sandblast and paint the container to match the building it is attached to within a set number of days.

Third, after a maximum of two years the container will need to be removed, and the zoning administrator will have the authority to revoke the zoning permit for the accessory structure after one year if it no longer meets the conditions and requirements of the zoning permit.

Fourth, architectural screening and sound barriers for the compressors outside the building are to be installed.

Fifth, loading/unloading can only take place during normal business hours with only one truck or semi at the loading dock at one time.

Sixth, the porous surface of the back lot is to be maintained.

Seventh, failure to comply would result in forfeiture of the CUP.

Eighth, the conditions remain in effect for two years and, lastly, if any of the conditions or any part of the CUP "shall be held invalid or void," then the permit would also be void.

"The Planning Commission was not even in existence when this issue originated," councilman and Planning Commission member Robert Vogel told residents. "We had to treat this as if it started in 2012."

The Planning Commission submitted the opinion that the business qualifies as a retail outlet, not a warehouse.

Attorney Dwight Luhman, who said he represented neighboring landowners, HIS Store, opposed to the CUP. He said that was not the case, arguing that Grass Run Farm (GRF) is a warehouse, and a warehouse is not a valid conditional use in the zoning district.

Spring Grove Attorney Joe Hammell agreed with Luhman's assessment of the issue, but not his conclusion that Grass Run Farm is really just a warehouse.

"We're a wholesale meat company," GRF owner Kristine Jepsen said. "We literally sell through the front door."

"It didn't sound like a warehouse," Vogel said. "A hub is essentially the same as a retail outlet."

Resident J.C. Nerstad stated that he has bought meat there for his business.

"This does not eliminate previous enforcement issues," City Administrator Theresa Coleman said. "If it is not used for storage within one year, it needs to be removed."

Neighboring property owners Gary Thomas and Keith Myrah of HIS Store objected to the CUP. They both cited access problems to the back of their Main Street building since GRF has placed the container near the alley.

Myrah also gave a lengthy address to the council, going through the city's zoning ordinance and CUP statutes line by line. Harmful, adverse effects to neighbors and the community are grounds for refusal of a CUP, he noted.

Hammell said that access is a separate issue. However, the original permit to attach the trailer to the building was denied, he added.

That permit, even in the form of a temporary CUP, is still necessary according to the city. Therein lies the rub.

Some residents called the situation for trucks negotiating the narrowed alley "dangerous."

Vogel said the point of the CUP was to get GRF to agree to remove the attached trailer, even if it takes a couple of years.

"We do not want to permit transportation structures to become permanent parts of structures," he said. "If we were starting over, we would not have allowed it. We (the Planning Commission) treated it as pre-existing."

Following public comment from those who wished to speak, the council closed the hearing.

Hammell was asked if removal of the container was legally enforceable within the CUP agreement.

He said that it was.

Council members amended the original CUP conditions from the Planning Commission to allow until May 9 for the container to be painted, at the request of Jepsen. Then the council voted.

The CUP was passed, with one "nay" vote from Mayor Saundra Solum. The mayor didn't state a reason for voting nay.

Councilmember Rachel Storlie was not present.