For the second time in as many meetings, the Cloquet Planning Commission voted against a request to rezone property on Minnesota Highway 33 from residential to commercial to accommodate a parking lot expansion for Sammy's Pizza.
The City Council tabled a vote May 21 from regarding Sammy's owner Michael Acheson's application to rezone a piece of the restaurant's property from residential to commercial.
Acheson plans to expand the size of Sammy's kitchen and dining room, but he also needs to widen the parking lot to comply with city requirements.
The Planning Commission originally recommended the City Council deny the application during its May 14 meeting. However, Commission Chair Uriah Wilkinson had contacted the council saying he would have changed his vote after receiving additional information regarding the issue.
Instead of voting on it that night, the City Council referred it back to the Planning Commission to consider during its meeting Tuesday, May 28. City Planner Al Cottingham recommended approval of the application.
Acheson owns the property stretching from the Sammy's parking lot on Minnesota Highway 33 to Boulder Drive, but it is zoned residential. To build a parking lot, it needs to be rezoned to a commercial lot.
Acheson's application to the Cloquet Planning and Zoning Commission was met with resistance from Boulder Drive residents, who believe that an expanded parking lot would increase traffic on their street, cause problems with sight lines and decrease property values. Twenty-two residents signed a petition opposing the rezoning and Acheson's plan.
All three of the commissioners who voted to deny the request - Mark Cline, John Sanders and Elizabeth Polling - cited the threat to the integrity of the residential neighborhood if the lot on Highway 33 was rezoned.
Sanders, a Boulder Drive resident, also said he was concerned about setting a precedent of rezoning the property. He said if the adjoining property were sold, the city could be forced to rezone that property too, adding to the threat to the residential neighborhood.
Sanders declined to comment further on his position following the meeting.
Wilkinson and Commissioner Terri Lyytinen voted to approve Acheson's request.
Several neighbors complained about the unsightliness of a parking lot so close to a neighborhood. However, Acheson plans to install a 6-foot barrier - in the form of bushes or a fence - to reduce noise and view of the highway and parking lot.
Increased traffic on Boulder also shouldn't be a problem since the entrance to Sammy's is approximately 160 feet from the street's intersection with Highway 33. Acheson said his application for a conditional use permit specifically states there wouldn't be access to the parking lot from Boulder drive.
In a follow-up letter to the planning commission, Acheson also offered to post entrance signs for traffic traveling north and south on Highway 33 to clarify the location of Sammy's entrance.
The issue will return to the City Council on June 4 at 7 p.m.