By Denise Lana,
(Originally published in the July 13 Public Opinion, available in print and online. Certain content is presented first to subscribers (print and digital), then released for consumption later)
For a second time since November 2022, the Decorah City Council denied the preliminary plat application for the proposed Kratz Subdivision at their Monday, July 3, meeting.
The proposed subdivision is located along Middle Calmar Road outside Decorah city limits but within two miles of the city limits boundary. This gives both Winneshiek County and the City of Decorah the right to waive or place contingencies on property requirements needing to be accomplished before approval of the proposed development.
The original application was submitted Sept. 21, 2022, to Winneshiek County and Decorah City engineers and zoning administrators. Winneshiek County Engineer Lee Bjerke stated in a letter, “The plat seems to be in compliance with the zoning requirements set forth,” pending further investigation of an easement on lot #1 of the plat. Decorah City Engineer Jeremy Bril heavily reviewed the plan in accordance with city code section 16.04.040 that outlines the minimum standards for the design and development of new subdivisions.
Bril noted a bevy of issues, including too-narrow streets; longer than acceptable cul-de-sac streets; unnamed streets; no curb and gutter; no streetlights, sidewalks, or street signs were shown; inconsistencies existed with the building setback lines; water connections for each lot were not designated; no stormwater management plan was included; and easements for Trout Run Trail and a natural gas line were needed.
A letter outlining these concerns was submitted by Bril Nov. 1, 2022, prior to the application going before Decorah Planning & Zoning for consideration.
At the Nov. 14 P&Z meeting, committee members voted 5-2 to accept the preliminary plat with contingencies needing to be fulfilled, stressing necessary easements, stormwater provisions, and street, sign, curb and gutter and sidewalk concerns.
Decorah City Council received the plat proposal at the Nov. 21 meeting, where council member Randy Schissel moved to deny approval, citing the plat did not meet city codes, negative effects to Trout Run Trail, and the items and concerns cited in Bril’s letter. The motion was passed unanimously and the proposed Kratz Subdivision plat was not approved.
A variance request application for approval was submitted by Dave Kratz and Tade Kerndt to the Decorah Board of Adjustment, citing that the project was not in the city limits and is in compliance with county code, with Kratz and Kerndt saying they felt “The city evaluated the property as if it was in the city limits and it is not,” adding that an adjacent subdivision was allowed and to not approve the Kratz Subdivision “would show unfair treatment and favoritism.”
Discussion continued at the city council’s Dec. 19, 2022, meeting, where it was clarified by City Attorney John Anderson that the council was responsible for granting variances for areas within a two-mile radius of the city limits, in lieu of the Board of Adjustment. Kerndt appeared before the council and reiterated the subdivision met county code and would not be asking to be annexed into the city. Council member Steven Zittergruen motioned to accept the variance, but it failed on a 4-2 vote.
The Kratz Subdivision plat application found life once again this year during the council’s May 16 meeting, where council members debated at length before voting to table any decision until the next council meeting. On June 5, at its regular meeting, council members continued the Kratz discussion.
Member-at-large Kirk Johnson voiced that his only concern with the subdivision is the one lot where the Trout Run Trail runs through a platted yard. He stressed that he was not concerned about the width of the street, or if it has streetlights.
Kerndt once again spoke to the council, saying, “The whole intent is for this to be a rural subdivision … there is no intention of it to come into part of the city. The county has said they do not want any public subdivisions anymore, they want this, since the burden of the cost falls to the owners to maintain the lots. This is a great opportunity to create more housing.”
Zittergruen stated, “We do have a housing crisis, and it creates more housing. I am grateful for the creation of more housing.” Conversely, Zittergruen added, “I think that encouraging a ring of fairly sparse sprawl around the city that uses our amenities isn’t a great stewardship. They don’t have to pay the city, but they get to have the benefits of the city’s amenities.” The council ultimately did not approve the Kratz Subdivision preliminary plat, with two members, Steve Luse and Steven Zittergruen, voting nay.
Two of the seven council members were absent from the June meeting, and according to the rule to reconsider, one of the two council members who voted against the increase could, with support of one additional council member, request to have it resubmitted for consideration at a future council meeting.
That’s exactly what occurred at the council’s July 3 meeting, when Zittergruen made a motion to reconsider the preliminary plat, and it passed unanimously.
After heavy discussion, several council members said that the most important things to consider included a Stormwater Management Plan, and if it ever was annexed, the development would have to have curb and gutter, sidewalks, street signs and streetlights installed. Ultimately, the subdivision’s plat application failed by a vote of 4-3.