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Cities dropping 'drop home' legislature

After the Temporary Family Health Care Dwelling law was passed this spring by the state Legislature, many cities in the metro area are considering opting out.

The statute allows families to place a "drop home" — a mobile residential dwelling less than 300 square feet in size — onto their property, so long as they pay $100 for the permit and connect water, electricity and sewer to the dwelling. The building must be mobile and have been built elsewhere.

The permit for a dwelling is for six months, and can be renewed for another six months or longer for $50.

Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Woodbury and Newport's Planning Commissions or city staff have decided to recommend the city councils opt out.

"I'm not really sure where [the bill] was being driven from," Cottage Grove senior planner John Burbank said.

Staff and planning commissions for several other area cities have been or will be recommending their city councils to opt out, including Afton, Inver Grove Heights, Sunfish Lake, Lilydale, South St. Paul, Hastings, Maplewood and Oakdale. The deadline for cities to opt out is Sept. 1.

Temporary dwellings are allowed almost anywhere in residential communities under the bill.

"The majority of the community would have that ability to host a family member on the property in one of these temporary structures," Burbank said.

One of the reasons Cottage Grove staff recommended opting out has to do with the utility connections.

"There's a lot of layering of things that we would have to deal with as a community that we don't feel is appropriate to do that," Burbank said.

City staffers are also questioning the feasibility and safety of such connections.

"It's challenging with utilities — both private and public — and trying use them in a safe manner with these dwellings," City Engineer Jennifer Levitt said.

Beyond the safety, there are also concerns about space and aesthetics.

"It would be burdensome for the city having unmonitored utility hook-ups, and power and sanitary, having it in the front yard of the principal structure," Burbank said. "There's just no room for these structures."

Levitt said that these dwellings just would not be needed in communities like Cottage Grove.

"There are other alternative to this amendment," she said.

Rather than using a "drop home," families can just keep ailing members in their existing homes, Burbank said.

"There's a lot of other options to take care of ailing family members within existing structures," he said. "It may be a bit inconvenient, but looking at the nature of the task is, perhaps that's more appropriate in the principal structure."

Opposition to the law is not unanimous. Cottage Grove's planning commission recommended the opt-out 5-1. South St. Paul planning commissioners voted 5-2 for the opt-out.

"I'm a little discouraged that we're looking at curtailing them completely, but they are temporary facilities and they are affordable for people who are looking to take care of their loved ones, with end of life needs," Cottage Grove planning commissioner Adam Graf said.

Some communities are considering creating their own statutes after opting out of the bill, in order to add their own details that they feel the bill is lacking.

"We may propose future recommendation on how we could do this," Woodbury Senior Planner Eric Searles said. "It's possible we will propose a future ordinance based on the needs of the community, rather than adopting the broad legislation."

For some like St. Paul Park City Council member Sandi Dingle, the bill's central idea is not the issue, but rather the follow-through to make the drop homes successful.

"While we appreciate the Legislature's action in making this happen in many families and making it available for many cities to do this, we just want more skin in the game," Dingle said. "We're concerned that we would retain more control [if we opt out]."

A public hearing will be held on the bill at the Cottage Grove City Council meeting on Aug. 10. St. Paul Park's City Council will hold a public hearing on Aug. 15. Newport City Council members will discuss the bill Aug. 18.