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Panel puts wedding venue issue back in council’s court

Afton’s ping pong game over commercial wedding venues and agri-tourism continued again last week with the issue now headed back to Afton City Council.

Afton Planning Commission discussed the possibility of implementing an interim use for commercial wedding venues – at the direction of City Council – during its Dec. 2 meeting.

However, commissioners discovered a flaw in allowing for commercial wedding venues on an interim basis – it would violate the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

As it stands, the city’s Comprehensive Plan only allows for commercial uses within the Village Historic Site-Commercial district.

Since the commercial wedding venue use is proposed to be allowed within either the agricultural or rural residential districts, the interim use would be in violation of the Comprehensive Plan.

“You can’t have an ordinance that is contrary to an explicit policy in the Comprehensive Plan,” Commissioner Dick Bend said.

City Council directed Planning Commission to look at the concept of an interim use last month after City Attorney Fritz Knaak uncovered a provision in state statute allowing for uses on an interim basis.

However, Bend said he discovered a provision in the statute that stated all interim uses must be compliant with the city’s zoning districts, which a commercial wedding venue would not.

“You can’t bootstrap yourself and grant it if it’s not permitted under the zoning uses,” he said.

Planning Commission agreed to ask for further direction from City Council before moving forward with the interim use discussion.

“It’s a commercial use in a zone that doesn’t permit commercial uses,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Barb Ronningen said. “This needs to be reconsidered by both the council and the attorney unless we change the ordinances and the (Comprehensive Plan).”

Planning Commission also continued its discussion of agri-tourism and the proposed Manning Avenue Corridor/Agri-Tourism Overlay District. 

The overlay district would allow for agri-tourism uses such as farm wineries, apple orchards, hay rides, barn dances and other related uses.

Given that City Council will be discussing the ordinance at a workshop this week, in order to give Planning Commission more direction, last week’s discussion was kept to a minimum.

However, Commissioner Mark Nelson did argue that the current ordinance isn’t enough.

The overlay district was originally brought up as a way to prevent annexation.

“My problem with pumpkin rolling and pony rides is that it doesn’t add very much,” he said. “I don’t see how we’re changing anything.”

Commissioner Kris Kopitzke argued that even though agri-tourism doesn’t change a lot, it changes something.

“You have to show that you’re not just sticking your head in the sand,” he said. “It’s about doing something rather than nothing.”

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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