Katie and Joe Reinhardt have their second driveway and they’re willing to go to court to keep it.

Unhappy with the city for leveraging them to combine the five lots they own near Big Marine Lake, the Reinhardts appeared before the Scandia City Council last week asking that they reconsider their driveway variance and the consolidation requirement placed on it.

Unsure of what process existed for the request, the council took no action and asked city staff to research the matter further and will place it on a future council agenda.

“I’m struggling a little bit with procedurally, what’s the request here?” City Attorney Eric Sherburne said. “There isn’t really anything to appeal.”

Concerned about losing property value, the Reinhardts expressed stern opposition to combining the five parcels in order to keep the secondary driveway—at one point likening it to the city “taking their kids and combining them into one.” They told the council their attorney had advised them to fight it if the city wouldn’t renegotiate the variance.

“According to multiple sources, you guys are gonna have a tough time forcibly doing that,” Joe Reinhardt told the council last week. “You’d have to decide, do you like your odds [in court]? Because I’m not willing just to give up what I bought.”

Last October, the Reinhardts appeared before the council seeking an after-the-fact variance on a secondary driveway they had created. City staffers reported that the Reinhardts had built the driveway by pouring gravel across a wetland area, in violation of the Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had ordered them to restore the area. Receiving the city’s variance was their last option for appeal to keep it, according to the October staff report.

Yet after a testy discussion in which both Reinhardts were eventually removed from the council chambers, the council ultimately went against city staff and planning commission recommendations to grant the variance—provided that the five lots would be combined by Dec. 31, 2018.

The Reinhardts sought a further appeal of that decision but, in March, the council denied a request to extend an appeal deadline the Reinhardts had missed.

But while the circumstances haven’t changed since then, the city’s personnel has.

Following an election and two retirements, there are two new city council members, a new city planner and a current vacancy in the city administrator’s role.

During the May 21 council meeting, the Reinhardts said they had been “led down the wrong path” by the city, a point to which Councilman Steve Kronmiller seemed to agree.

“The point of the matter is: what we’re looking at is a wetland fill violation,” Kronmiller said. “What we really need to do right now is figure out how we’re going to give them a driveway permit. Because all the rest of it that goes along with it is under the jurisdiction of the (Washington) Conservation District. Whether they can keep it or not … is not up to us.” 

Councilman Chris Ness disagreed.

“I see it completely different. I see that they came in with no permit, on hearsay from a previous administrator,” Ness said. “We asked them to do some things. And all we get are excuses and stonewall. I was surprised and frankly dismayed that the council allowed (the variance) to happen.”

Liquor violation

Brookside Pub will be closed for one day, Oct. 1, and will pay a $500 fine—the minimum penalties required by city ordinance—after the business failed an alcohol compliance check last October.

Matt Miller, a co-owner of the establishment, apologized to the city council during a hearing last week and promised the business would do better in the future.

“I don’t ever want to be up here again, unless it’s for an award,” Miller said.

Other business:

• Under the rules of its new solar farm ordinance, the council approved a conditional use permit for a new 1 megawatt solar farm to be installed between Keystone Avenue and Manning Trail, west of the Big Marine Lake Store.

• The council accepted the resignation of firefighter James Cook.

• The council granted a special events permit and temporary liquor license for the St. Croix Fat Cat Triathlon to be held July 13.

• The council accepted a $7,980 grant from Washington County funding a municipal recycling program.

• Following a hearing in which no public comments were made, the council tabled an update to its tobacco ordinance. The new ordinance would increase the minimum age of sale to 21 and adds rules for vaping and other tobacco-related products. 

• The council approved the hiring of its seasonal part-time public works employee. Steven Burke will work for the city for up to 67 days this summer, at a rate of $11.50 per hour.  

The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held June 5 at 6:30 p.m.

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