Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Panel to study lot splits

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Roseville resident Lynnae LeBarron attended the open house displaying information about the Lot Split study at Roseville City Hall on March 15. Linda E. Andersen/Review
The issue of splitting single-family housing lots into multiple lots, thereby increasing population density in residential neighborhoods, is one that has confronted suburban Twin Cities communities for many years.

Now Roseville's planning commission, along with an appointed panel of citizens charged with focusing on lot splits, is ready to hear from Rosevillians about the issue.

Currently, the panel is called the lot-split study group. It held its first meeting, a public open house, March 15.

The specially appointed panel that will work with the planning commission consists of: Gary Grefenberg, Jean Kelsey, Darrel LeBarron and Vivian Ramalingam. James DeBenedet will serve as an alternate.

Mayor Craig Klausing noted he's heard from people concerned about lot splits fairly frequently during his tenure on the City Council and in the mayor's seat.

"It's a recurring issue in suburbs like Roseville," he said. "It always causes tension in the neighborhoods."

He thinks appointing Roseville residents to work with the planning commission in studying the issue is a solid step.

"This is an effort to take a look at it," Klausing explained. "Do we want to do something different?"

Klausing also said he thinks as the population continues to boom throughout the Twin Cities lots splits will continue to be a major issue for local governments.

"We need to find housing for all these people," Klausing added.

He also explained lot splits have been occurring in Roseville for many years and the current debate does not stem from some people illegally or covertly splitting lots. All lot splits in Roseville have occurred within city ordinance.

"This is not a case of splitting lots without telling anyone," Klausing added.

Klausing said the lot-splitting issue comes down to differing philosophies. Some want to preserve green space and traditional neighborhoods and some want to utilize their property as an investment.

"Is it fair to require some property owners to not develop their property for the benefit of their neighbor's green space?" Klausing said. "It brings up different visions."

Klausing isn't sure what the lot-split study group will present to the City Council, but he knows there's an element in Roseville that would like to see the council put in place a stricter lot-splitting ordinance.

Jamie Radel, an economic development associate for Roseville, is helping to organize the lot-split study group meetings. She's hopeful the group will hold fruitful conversations with community residents.

"It's more about listening than anything else," Radel said. "We'll be asking how the public feels about the lot splits. We really want to know what people think."

It's possible the lot-split study group could make concrete recommendations to the City Council regarding potential ordinance changes.

"But we haven't gotten that far yet," Radel noted.

Radel explained her office generally hears from neighborhood residents when someone has brought a lot-split proposal to the city. When such a proposal is submitted, the city sends out notices to the residents of the neighborhood.

"We mostly hear from people when a proposal has been brought forward," Radel said.

Mary Bakeman, a longtime Roseville resident and a member of the planning commission, said in her three years on the commission the lot-split issue hasn't been heated.

"It has not come up all that frequently," Bakeman said.

However, she added she knows it has been a source of debate in some areas in the city.

"It's been a problem in some of the neighborhoods," Bakeman said. "Change is difficult for some people."

Like Klausing, Bakeman said lot splitting is in no way a new issue for Roseville.

"It's not a new phenomena in any way," she said.

As far as the lot-split study group, Bakeman is eager to hear from Rosevillians.

"I hope we can see all sides of the issues," she explained. "I think there's a middle ground some place."

Bakeman said the lot-split study group's finished product is still undetermined.

"I don't know if we'll get to the point of drafting ordinance language to present to the city council," she said. "I think there might be changes of some kind."

Council Member Amy Ihlan noted she has a passionate interest in how Roseville's lots are split.

"It's a clash between the desire to build more homes versus the neighborhood's concerns about losing large lots," Ihlan said, adding she's concerned about losing private green space.

Ihlan also explained the council currently has a moratorium on lot splits in place that runs until the end of April in an effort to allow the lot split study group to gather information.

"I'm really pleased by it," Ihlan said of the group. "I wish the council would have considered a longer period of time for a moratorium."

Ihlan believes some kind of adjustment to the city's current lot-split ordinance is badly needed.

"As far as I can tell we haven't updated our subdivision code since 1956," Ihlan said.

Ihlan said she thinks giving the council more discretion to consider more factors, such as neighborhood character and the environment, would be a prudent move.

"Right now our ordinance is pretty mechanical," Ihlan noted.

Ihlan was also adamant that she's not opposed to lot splits as a whole, she simply desires a more carefully drawn ordinance that will help the council and residents.

"It's about preserving neighborhoods and planning carefully for more housing," Ihlan said.

George Fairbanks can be reached at gfairbanks@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7813.

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