Medina settles variance lawsuit

Medina Police Officer Keith Converse (center) receives congratulations from Mayor Liz Weir and Police Chief Ed Belland after the City Council recognized him for his 10 years of service to the city. Converse is Medina’s juvenile officer and crisis intervention officer. (Sun Press staff photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

Medina Police Officer Keith Converse (center) receives congratulations from Mayor Liz Weir and Police Chief Ed Belland after the City Council recognized him for his 10 years of service to the city. Converse is Medina’s juvenile officer and crisis intervention officer. (Sun Press staff photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

For a short while, a small lot in the Independence Beach neighborhood of Medina was a problem for its owners, neighbors and the city of Medina. The Medina City Council, Tuesday, Dec. 2, learned that the problem is likely to go away soon.

However, City Councilor Kathleen Martin cast a shadow of doubt over the good news. She asked whether a future Medina City Council might be presented with a similar problem involving this same lot.

And City Attorney Ron Batty answered, “Yes.”

The lot in question is an undeveloped parcel that has frontage on Lake Ardmore and is located at Ardmore Avenue and Balsam Street. Lake Ardmore drains into Lake Independence.

The problem property has been the focal point of a lawsuit in which the city of Medina and Jacob and Alicia Moser are defendants and James Leviton and Robin Reid are the plaintiffs. The City Council learned on Dec. 2 that attorneys have reached a settlement agreement. After a short discussion, councilors approved the document.

The problem property has been vacant for years because most people thought it was too small to be buildable. Then the Mosers purchased the property, which is located in the Shoreland Overlay District. Their goal was to build a house, but this plan had a glitch. The couple needed a number of variances from city and Shoreland Overlay zoning regulations in order to fit the house on the property. A Shoreland Overlay District has zoning regulations intended to protect a neighboring water body.

If the Moser house had become reality, the couple would have been a neighbor of Leviton and Reid. But their two would-be neighbors thought the proposed house was too large for the lot and for the surrounding neighborhood. Leviton and Reid also expressed concern about environmental effects of locating a house in close vicinity to wetlands and Lake Independence.

Reid is a member of the Medina Planning Commission, which reviewed two different proposals for the Moser house. The City Council approved the variances in January, and Leviton and Reid quickly filed the lawsuit in Minnesota 4th District court. They alleged that Medina had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in granting the variances.

City Administrator Scott Johnson announced on Dec. 2 that attorneys had finalized a settlement agreement on that afternoon. The suit will be dismissed “with prejudice,” which means that parties are forbidden from refiling the case.

No one is admitting wrongdoing.

The dismissal will not be official until a key event takes place. The settlement agreement calls for Leviton and Reed to purchase the property from Moser at a cost of $86,000. Once the closing of the sale takes place, the lawsuit will be dismissed. City Attorney Batty said he expected this event to happen before the end of the year.

He added that Medina would not have to pay anything, meaning that the city will not pay for damages or attorneys’ fees other than its own. The settlement also says that Medina’s approval of variances for the Moser proposal would not apply to the new property owners.

That was when City Councilor Martin asked about the future. Could a new owner of the property ask for variances in order to build on the site?

Batty answered, “This is a lot that can’t be developed without variances.” He also said that each situation is different and would be decided on its own merits.

OTHER COUNCIL ACTIONS

The City Council also approved Medina’s final 2014 general fund budget and property tax levy. (Editor’s note: See separate story in this newspaper.)

Mayor Liz Weir described consent agenda items, one of which was a videography service agreement with Cipher Laboratories Inc. She noted that, after Jan. 1, videos of council meetings will posted on the Medina city website at ci.medina.mn.us instead of the Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission website. The change will take place because Medina is withdrawing from the LMCC as of Dec. 15. Cipher Laboratories will be the city’s new video contractor.

Turning to matters affecting the police department, the council recognized Officer Keith Converse for his 10 years of service to the city. He was the city’s first DARE officer in 2007 and now is Medina’s juvenile officer. He has been trained and certified as a crisis intervention officer through the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Police Chief Ed Belland called Converse “dependable and hardworking” and then said, “He does an excellent job with children in the community.”

In other police matters, the City Council accepted a donation of equipment valued at $10,385 from Steve Lundell, who recently retired after a long career as a volunteer in the Medina Police Reserves. He donated a variety of equipment accumulated during his career.

The City Council also approved a new tobacco license for Jensen & Sons Inc. at 314 Clydesdale Trail and renewed tobacco licenses for eight other Medina businesses.

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

 

 

 

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