Southwest Councilmembers face votes ? on their own projects

The City Council will have the rare – and perhaps awkward – opportunity to rule on land use requests from two of its own members.

Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) is seeking to rezone his East Calhoun lot from R1 to R2B to expand his existing duplex. The Planning Commission approved the request May 9 on a voice vote, overriding staff recommendations to deny it. The City Council has the final say.

Councilmember Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) and Donald Ross are seeking variances to move a detached garage to property they own in the Phillips neighborhood. The variances would reduce the side yard setbacks from 8 feet to 1.5 feet and allow the garage to exceed the maximum size by 50 square feet, from 676 square feet to 726 square feet, a city staff report said.

The Zoning Board of Adjustments said no April 21 on a 6-1 vote. Lilligren and Ross have appealed to the Council.

The Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee will hear Niziolek’s and Lilligren’s requests on Thursday, July 9, said Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward), the committee’s chair.

"It is very unusual. It hasn’t happened before," Schiff said of hearing requests from two Councilmembers on the same day.

"I want to make sure we are acting consistent with what other people in the immediate area would be able to do for both of these applications – and it is very clear that we are acting pertaining to legal findings of fact and that we are not making decisions based on anything else," he said.

Niziolek and his wife Heidi (who were not available for comment) own a duplex at 3401 Irving Ave. S. They have what is known as a legal nonconforming use. For many years, the lot was zoned to allow a duplex. It got downzoned in the 1970s, with the duplex having grandfather rights to remain.

The Niziolek’s property is 11,000 square feet on two platted lots, according to the city staff report. They have young twins and want to convert the existing duplex into a single-family home and build a new structure to the west as the new duplex unit.

Staff recommended against it. The Niziolek’s lot is part of a "large lot district," meant to preserve larger lots from subdivision and more development.

Schiff, who also sits on the Planning Commission, said Commission members disagreed with the staff’s analysis.

The large lot district is intended "to preserve a kind of mansion feel around the lakes," Schiff said. The Niziolek’s lot, "is a good block away from the lake, and [is] not a property that rings the lake system. None of the other homes on the block are part of the large lot district."

In approving the zoning change, the Planning Commission wrote in part: "The creation of additional housing options in this neighborhood is in the public interest."

If the Council approves the rezoning, the Nizioleks could build a duplex, or subdivide the lot and build a separate home facing West 34th Street, Schiff said.

Lilligren, who represents part of Southwest’s Lyndale and Kingfield neighborhoods, wants to move a garage from the 2500 block of Columbus Avenue South to his property at 2900 3rd Ave. S. According to a city staff report, the proposed garage does not match the duplex’s roof pitch or type, as code requires. It would detract from sight lines at the alley intersection with the street.

Staff wrote that the property owners could build a new garage on the site that would meet city code.

Lilligren said he has taken a hands-off approach on the appeal and has not talked to his colleagues about it.

Yet he defended the variance request, saying other garages’ roof pitches and styles don’t match the main dwellings. Further, the garage would sit on the alley’s east side and would not affect traffic sight lines, he said. East 29th Street is a one-way heading east. Cars exiting the alley would only need to look to the west for oncoming traffic.