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Afton Center CUP denied

It was standing room only at the June 1 meeting of the Afton Planning Commission for the public hearing on the conditional use permit for the proposed Afton Center.

By meeting's end, the commission decided to recommend denial of the CUP to the Afton City Council.

The hearing had plenty of people scratching their heads because the project is presently in court with the city.

"Currently being in litigation, do we really need to spend time on this?" Afton resident Rich Meyers asked.

A lawsuit was filed against the city in 2007 by Gordy Jarvis, owner of the Afton House Inn, over his application to build a 48-unit luxury condominium project on the St. Croix River which would span three city blocks and include space for 12 retail occupants.

Jarvis contends his application was incorrectly determined to be incomplete and wrongfully rejected.

The city stands by its interpretation that the application was indeed incomplete.

During the public hearing, city staff recommended to the planning commission that the application does not meet several state and city requirements in regards to land uses, density and the comprehensive plan.

Since the application was filed in 2006 it was unclear which ordinances to apply, but Afton's attorney in this case, George Hoff from Hoff, Barry and Kozar, P.A, informed the commission and public that it is today's ordinances that are being applied.

In order to combat any confusion or contention, staff applied both sets of ordinances to the application, and the project does not meet either.

"We looked at it under both lenses," city planner Chuck Marohn said.

Many Afton residents spoke during the public hearing, airing their opinions regarding the project.

Afton resident and former Afton mayoral candidate Bob Dickie stated his concerns with the village being in poor condition and needing improvements.

"Something needs to happen in the village and something needs to happen soon," he said. "Calling a task difficult is not an excuse for doing nothing."

In regards to the Afton Center, Dickie did not directly voice his opinion of the project, but discussed that if the council and the applicant worked together, there could be progress made.

"The devil is in the details," he said.

Afton resident Thomas Dematteo also spoke about the village.

"We need to think about what we want the village to look like," he said.

Martin Stern from the design review committee said they have repeatedly tried to reach out to the applicant to discuss the details of the project, but the applicant has never attended.

The applicant, Jarvis, did not speak during the public hearing about his project, but Paul Brandt, who spoke on behalf of GJ&M, informed the planning commission that had never received notice from the design review committee, nor had they received any negative comments from the state regulating bodies, contrary to the staff report.

Brandt than began detailing the many errors he felt were in the staff report and the recommendation.

"It is unilateral, it is biased, it is inaccurate, and it is inappropriate," he said.

Closing out the public hearing was former Afton mayor Charlie Devine, who has his own issues with the city in the form of the FOC, LLC and Atomic Properties lawsuit.

Devine began pointing out errors in the staff report as well, specifically in relation to the comprehensive plan and environmental impacts.

"This is an important project," he said.

Devine veered off into political matters associated with the project and the commission.

"This project has been contentious because of the unwillingness and lack of cooperation," he said.

Devine was quickly interrupted and asked to take his seat by planning commission chairwoman Barbara Ronningen.

"We don't have to tolerate continually being criticized by people in the audience," she said.

Once the public hearing was closed, it was finally the commissioners turn to speak on the project.

"I am very disappointed that we weren't given the full project to consider," commissioner Jim Fox said. "We only have the project narrative."

Commissioner Richard Bend voiced his frustration with the entire process because they were being put in the middle of a conflict, without having the proper materials.

"There is not an applicant pushing an application," he said. "If we haven't got a plan in front of us, what are we supposed to do.

"There is an application that may or may not exist and we're denying that and if the application doesn't exist, our motion is moot."

Bend said he reluctantly made the motion to recommend denial the application.

Commissioner Scott Patten raised the point however, that if the applicant should so choose, they can resubmit an application.

"At the end of the day, nobody's been hurt necessarily," he said.

Next, the CUP will go before the city council.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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