Permits for two businesses granted

Three small businesses are looking to open or further expand their operations in Scandia.

The Scandia City Council approved a pair of permit applications for two businesses last week and tabled a third, in order to gather additional information. 

Rustic Roots Winery, owned by Andrea and Greg Sandaeger, received a conditional use permit from the city.

The 80-acre winery operation at 20168 St. Croix Trail will eventually feature commercial grape cultivation and processing, wine-making, tours, tasting and retail sales. The business is expected to employ up to 20 people and can host crowds of up to 150 people at a time during weekday and weekend hours.

The council also allowed the winery operation up to six special events per year.

Redeemed Farm

Because of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Redeemed Farm owners Jeff and Julie Gacek sought city approval to expand their wedding barn operation in new ways.

In lieu of hosting one wedding a day, the business can now host up to four smaller weddings in a day, each between two to four hours long. 

City Planner Merritt Clapp-Smith said the proposal would likely lessen the neighborhood impacts of the business overall, in terms of traffic, outdoor lighting and the use of amplified music. Roughly the same number of people would be allowed at the site throughout the day as opposed to one large group attending a single wedding or reception. 

The Gaceks told the council they requested the permit changes because they anticipate the wedding business will be trending toward smaller gatherings in light of COVID-19.

“We honestly feel that there’s a bend in the road coming,” Jeff Gacek said.  

The council granted the business’s annual permit and also instructed the city’s planning commission to consider changing the city’s ordinance to allow the wedding barn to operate under a one-time conditional use permit, instead of having to obtain a permit annually.

Better Place Forests

Scandia’s first-ever “conservation memorial forest” could be coming to 112 acres of undeveloped woodlands between Big Marine Lake and Fish Lake, north of Lakamaga Trail.    

A San Francisco-based start-up company called Better Place Forests is seeking a permit to install and operate on land currently owned by Janice Riermann.

The memorial forest, which operates somewhat like a cemetery, promises to ensure that the tract of land would stay forested and undeveloped permanently.

Instead of selling traditional burial plots and gravestones, the company dedicates trees within the forest with small memorial markers and accepts cremated remains to be mixed with the soils beneath the dedicated trees.

Improvements to the site would be limited to a small building for a shelter and bathrooms and 14 parking spaces.

Though seeming to be in favor of the concept overall, the council raised several questions at its June 16 meeting that led them to table the proposal until July.

Clapp-Smith noted that city code does not specifically allow “conservation memorial forests” and suggested the proposal could be evaluated under its rules for cemeteries. 

Mayor Christine Maefsky wondered whether the city might be getting more than it bargained for with the proposal—as she believes they did in allowing commercial solar gardens a few years ago. 

The council also observed that the proposal promises, but does not clearly guarantee, future sale and development of the site. 

Liam McNally, a land specialist with Better Place Forests, said the company currently has a purchase agreement in place for the land, but could not guarantee that the company would not sell off a smaller portion of the land in the future. McNally insisted that the company’s goal is ultimately to preserve the lands under a conservation easement, even if sold.

“There are just too many variables that can’t be accounted for tonight,” council member Steve Kronmiller said.

Other business:

• City Administrator Ken Cammilleri reviewed the city’s COVID-19 Preparedness Plan with the council, noting that city staff will be encouraging absentee balloting to all city residents, maintaining limits to in-person business at the city office and the closure of the Community Center, and encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing efforts.

• The council approved two setback variances: for Gary Markgraf, 23820 Lofton Ave., to replace a septic system near a wetland; and for Peter and Karissa Goers, 12730 182nd St. N., to reconstruct their residence near Big Marine Lake. 

 The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held July 1 at 6:30 p.m.

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