Residents file lawsuit against Medina

Neighbors object to proposed Lake Ardmore home

James Leviton and Robin Reid, who live in the Independence Beach neighborhood of Medina, are objecting to Medina City Council actions that make it legal for Jacob Moser to build a new house on an undeveloped parcel at Ardmore Avenue and Balsam Street.

Leviton and Reid are so dissatisfied that on Feb. 8, they filed a lawsuit against Medina in Fourth District Court. They and their attorney Mark Thieroff are asking the court to find that Medina “acted unreasonably and arbitrarily and capriciously in granting one or more of (five) variances” from city zoning regulations pertaining to Moser’s proposed house. The complaint in the case also asks the court to issue “a permanent injunction enjoining the city from issuing any grading, building or other permit or approval necessary to develop the lots as approved.”

The Medina City Council is expected to meet in a closed session on March 5 to discuss the Leviton/Reid lawsuit.

Both Leviton and Reid are neighbors to the Moser property, and Reid is a member of the Medina Planning Commission, which reviewed two different proposals for the Moser house. The City Council on Dec. 18 tabled action on the second proposal and asked Moser to come back with changes. The modified proposal got council approval on Jan. 15, so Leviton and Reid acted quickly in taking legal action.

The Moser property has frontage on Lake Ardmore, which drains into Lake Independence. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has declared Lake Independence as an impaired water body. Because of its location, Medina has placed the property in the Shoreland Overlay District, a designation that has zoning regulations intended to protect a neighboring water body. These regulations take into account the ordinary high water level of the water body and lot size. Medina granted Moser a variance from the 20,000-square-foot minimum lot size in the Shoreland Overlay District so that he can build on an 18,520-square-foot lot.

As Moser and his architect planned his house, they encountered other difficulties with the lot. A wetland is located between the proposed house and Lake Ardmore. Medina regulations require buffers surrounding wetlands, setbacks from wetland buffers, front yard setbacks from the street and side yard setbacks from neighboring properties.

Once these four setbacks are taken into account, very little buildable land would be left on the lot. Moser got approvals for all four setbacks. City Planner Dusty Finke said at the Jan. 3 City Council meeting that there is no way to build a home on the Moser property without triggering a setback variance on the front or backside of the property.

Because his property is in a low lying area, Moser also would need to bring in a large amount of fill in order to construct his proposed one-story walkout home. The structure would occupy 2,040-square-feet.

Under a new state law, a property owner must prove that he has practical difficulty in complying with the zoning ordinance. In order to prove practical difficulty he must propose “to use the property in a reasonable manner not permitted by the zoning ordinance.” His plight must be “due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the landowner.” The variance, if granted, must “not alter the essential character of the locality.”

The Leviton/Reid complaint alleges, “Moser did not establish, and the city did not adequately find that there are practical difficulties in complying with the zoning ordinance.”

The complaint continues, “… construction of a house with a footprint of over 2,000-square-feet is not a reasonable use of the lots because the house cannot be accommodated without numerous significant setbacks and because the proposed house is nearly four times larger than the minimum house size permitted by the city. The plight of the landowner is due to his desire to construct a house that is too large for the lots. The plight of the landowner is also due to his own decision to purchase the lots knowing that restrictions in the zoning ordinance severely limited the residential development of the property.”

Also, the complaint alleges, “The variances will alter the essential character of the locality by permitting a development that results in a single-family residence with virtually no backyard and that threatens a wetland and water quality in Lake Ardmore and Lake Independence.”