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    11.    
City Council Regular
Meeting Date: 01/15/2019  
Subject:    Consider Appeal of Planning Commission Decision, Planning Case 18-18, Site Plan/Conditional Use Permit, Self Storage Facility, Green Partnership
From: Scott Harlicker, Planner

INTRODUCTION
On November 15, 2018 the Planning Commission denied a site plan and conditional use permit for a self storage facility for Green Partnership at Vale Street/Coon Rapids Boulevard Extension.  The applicant subsequently appealed that decision to the City Council, which heard the case on December 18, 2018.  The City Council tabled action that evening.  Staff believes it is important to make a decision in a timely manner and is requesting that the City Council make a decision on the appeal on January 15, 2019 or February 5, 2019 at the latest.  The Council may affirm, amend or reject the Planning Commission’s previous decision to deny the site plan and conditional use permit.
DISCUSSION
As has been discussed, there is a long history with this site, as well as a significant amount of policy setting and regulatory work done over the years along Coon Rapids Boulevard.  Among those efforts has been the updated 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the Coon Rapids Boulevard Framework Plan, the various PORT master plans and the River Rapids Overlay District.  Each of these plans, zoning code modifications and other initiatives were intended to ensure the long-term attractiveness of Coon Rapids Boulevard, which is an important corridor in the community.
 
It is worth noting the geographical boundaries of the Coon Rapids Boulevard Framework Plan and more specifically the River Rapids Overlay District (RROD).  Staff believes there was a conscious decision made by previous city councils with respect to which properties were included and which ones weren’t.  The subject property was referenced in several of the previous planning documents and is included in the RROD.  While the property has an underlying industrial zoning classification, the RROD established a more prescriptive standard with respect to permitted industrial uses.  Not all of the typical industrial uses are allowed in the RROD.  In addition, the references to self-storage facilities along with the associated conditional criteria (i.e. sidewalk feasibility and screening) were meant to acknowledge the two existing facilities along Coon Rapids Boulevard and avoid creating non-conformities.  That said, staff doesn’t believe there was a strong desire to encourage additional self-storage facilities.  As such, the City Council still has the ability to consider all of the conditional use permit criteria outlined in Sections 11.304.3 and Section 11.1003 of City Code when evaluating this proposal.  
  
Context for Decision
 
There were a number of questions and concerns raised during the December 18th meeting about the economic viability of alternative uses.  There are other permitted uses to the current proposal and the City also has use flexibility to consider other concepts not contemplated under the City Code.  However, the Council should not consider the economic viability of alternative uses as a basis for making this decision.  The questions at hand involve the merits of this application; it’s compatibility with the surrounding neighborhoods; and whether it aligns with the City’s goals as outlined in the various planning documents referenced above and the City Code.  These documents lay the groundwork for evaluating the elements of the conditional use permit and site plan.  Staff believes the Council has discretion to conduct this review, weigh the merits and make a decision based on the information contained in the staff reports, the Planning Commission’s decision and finally the applicant’s proposal and supporting materials that have already been presented.  In summary, staff has not changed its recommendation to affirm the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the applications.    
 
Project Background
 
Prior to the December 18th meeting, the applicant provided an artist rendering of the view of the site from the area of Coon Rapids Boulevard and Coon Rapids Boulevard Extension and a revised site plan that included two benches along Vale Street. At the meeting, the applicant presented a narrative outlining their position regarding the Planning Commission's denial. All three items are attached as are the items related to the November 15th Planning Commission meeting.

Basis for Denial (Conditional Use Permit)
 
At their November 15th meeting, the Planning Commission denied the applicant's request for a conditional use permit based on a determination that 1) the project failed to meet all of the standards for granting a CUP, and 2) that the proposal failed to meet the CUP standards in the River Rapids Overlay District.  The following summarizes the findings made to deny the CUP application. 
 
Rationale #1: Failure to Meet Conditional Use Permit Requirements
 
Section 11-304.3 of City Code identifies ten standards that need to be evaluated and met when considering a CUP.  The Planning Commission and staff determined that the applicant failed to meet two of these standards (bulleted below):
  • 11-304.3 (a) states that the conditional use must be in conformity with the City’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and with the purpose, intent and applicable standards of this Title (section).  The proposed use does not meet this criteria for the following reasons:
The City’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan incorporates much of the work that was done as part of the Coon Rapids Boulevard Framework Plan.The Framework Plan established goals and policies, as well as recommendations for development along the Boulevard. The goals and policies include:
  1. Land Use and Development: Concentrate businesses in a limited number of nodes with residential, institutional, and open space use between nodes. The proposal is located between two nodes, PORT Evergreen and PORT Riverwalk. The proposed use is neither residential nor institutional. It is also not an office or commercial use that might promote interaction between residents.
  2. Sense of Place: Improvements along the corridor should support a sense of community, encouraging interaction among neighbors. The proposed use does not support a sense of community or encourage interaction among neighbors. The proposed use will have a limited number of employees with limited public access.  
  3. Good Design and No Blight: The corridor serves as gateway to surrounding neighborhoods and provides a first impression. The River Rapids Overlay District design guidelines were established to support the concept of creating a positive first impression. The proposed use does not meet the conditional use requirements of the Overlay District nor does it meet all of the design guidelines.
  • 11-304.3 (c) states that the conditional use will be located, designed, maintained and operated compatible with the existing or intended character of the zoning district.  The proposed use does not meet this criteria for the following reasons:
The proposed use is in a location that is one of the portals to the River Rapids Overlay District and PORT Riverwalk. The proposed use will not enhance the image of the district and it is not a use that encourages interaction between residents.

As part of the 2040 Comp Plan Update, the City collected public input from residents about priorities for next 20+ years.  Much of the feedback continued to be on Coon Rapids Boulevard and how it has impacted perceptions of the community.  It is still a priority that the City needs to pay attention to, especially in terms of use compatibility, aesthetics and the quality of future development.  The nature of a self-storage facility with large banks of garage doors and a security fence will not enhance that image.  The existing self-storage facility that is adjacent to the proposed site is a prime example of the negative image and the potential reality for how this type of use will function in the future.  Expanding this type of use would run contrary to what the City has been trying to accomplish along Coon Rapids Boulevard for many years.  
 
Rationale #2: Failure to Meet the River Rapids Overlay District CUP Standards

Section 11-1003 of City Code is the River Rapids Overlay District (RROD).  11-1003 (5)(a) spells out four criteria to evaluate and meet when considering a CUP in this District.  There are additional criteria in 11-1003 (5)(b) related to self-storage facilities.  The Planning Commission and staff determined that the applicant failed to meet the following standards (bulleted below):
  • 11-1003 (5)(a)(i)     Advance the intent of the River Rapids Overlay District 
This Section intends to protect the health, safety and public welfare through the adoption of official overlay controls that encourage compact, vigorous, mix use development, tied to a common theme that encompasses the heritage and qualities of the Mississippi River along the Coon Rapids Boulevard corridor. The proposal does not encourage a compact, vigorous mixed use development. It is a single use project consisting of one story buildings spread out over five acres. 

In addition, a linear system of PORTs, as regulated by Section 11-903, will promote clustering of commercial uses. Varied density residential development throughout the district, and especially between the PORTs, will establish the level of vitality and intensity needed to support compatible retail and service uses. Especially between the PORTs, uses should service the needs of nearby neighborhoods. Development should foster a sense of community, that is, the opportunity for people to travel comfortably throughout the District, conduct business, and meet neighbors.  The proposed project does not meet this criteria because the limited activity generated by a self-storage facility will not foster a sense of community, provide an opportunity for people to travel comfortably throughout the District or conduct business. 
 
Only mutually compatible uses shall be allowed through a combination of careful planning, innovative urban design, and coordinated public and private investment. Uses, building designs, placement of building edges, and landscaping, parking, and walkway treatments must create a neighborhood-oriented, pedestrian-friendly environment. This is a simple series of one story self-storage buildings that incorporates none of the above enhancements.
  •  11-1003 (5)(a)(ii)     Will not interfere with PORT development
Port Riverwalk is adjacent to the project site on the south side of Coon Rapids Boulevard. It has been designated as primarily residential. The City's plans for PORT Riverwalk include a detached single family home development. Allowing this site to be developed as a self-storage facility with limited architectural enhancements and other physical site amenities will detract from the desirability of the PORT and the City's investments. This area of Coon Rapids Boulevard also functions as an entry point and provides a first impression to the River Rapids Overlay District and PORT Riverwalk for travelers coming from the south and east. Given the site's high visibility and prominence, it is important that the development of this site reflects that priority; the proposed project does not accomplish this objective.
  • 11-1003 (5)(a)(iii)    Is incorporated into a plan that provides substantial site amenities, buffers, and other elements
The proposed use does not provide substantial site amenities, buffers or other elements. The landscaping meets the city code and provides the minimum buffer required; it does not rise to the level of substantial.  The are no site amenities, such as a designated outdoor seating area, or other elements included in the plan.
  • 11-1003 (5)(b)(i)     It is not feasible to install a public sidewalk to serve the facility
There is the ability to install a sidewalk from Coon Rapids Boulevard along the southwest side of the site. Based on the grading plan, the area between Coon Rapids Boulevard and the site levels off enough to accommodate a sidewalk to serve the site from Coon Rapids Boulevard.
 
Basis for Denial (Site Plan)
 
The Planning Commission also denied the applicant’s request for a site plan based 1) a failure to secure the associated CUP and 2) that the plan did not conform to several of the development guidelines found in Section 11-1003.11 (River Rapids Overlay District).  This section describes 15 different design guideline elements for proposed buildings.  The Planning Commission and staff concluded that the site plan failed to adequately meet the following elements: two-story expression, building massing, facades, varied roof shapes, focal features, outdoor spaces, pedestrian/bicycle access, urban design furniture/amenities and an abundance of overhead doors.  The staff report for the PC 18-18 Site Plan application provided a more detailed analysis of these design deficiencies.
RECOMMENDATION
In the appeal of Planning Case 18-18, site plan and conditional use permit- Green Partnership, staff recommends the City Council affirm the Planning Commission decision denying the site plan and conditional use permit. The Council may affirm, amend or reject the decision of the Planning Commission.

Attachments
Location Map
Appeal Letter
Commission CUP Staff Report
Commission Site Plan Staff Report
November 15 PC Minutes
Artist Rendering of site from Coon Rapids Blvd
Revised Site Plan - added benches on Vale St
Development Plans
Building Elevations
Applicant's narrative to Council 12-18-18

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