For the second time in as many years, the Thief River Falls City Council this week rejected the recommendation of their own Planning Commission, denying an ordinance change that would have allowed churches in areas zoned C-2 Commercial.
Earlier this spring, on a 4-0 vote with 2 abstentions, the City Planning Commission recommended the change in city law to allow Epiphany Station to purchase the former Home Lumber site on Highway 59 East to relocate and expand their congregation.
However, on a split vote Tuesday night, Council Members voted down the measure, brought to the table by Third Ward Alderman Edwin Dale Hahn, who said it was a matter of “equal opportunity.”
Standing with Hahn in favor of the ordinance change; Alderman at Large Elvera Cullen and Ward #5 Alderman Joseph Haj.
But Second Ward Alderman Don Sollom said the city already had a significant utility investment in the commercial zone and that initial intent of the law, changed in 1993, was still applicable.
Voting along with Sollom to reject the proposed change; Aldermen Ken Schmalz, Glen Kajewski, Jerald Brown and Mayor Jim Dagg.
The congregation of Epiphany Station was clearly disappointed, with Pastor Jeff Gause addressing the council after the vote Tuesday night .. equally disappointed was the property owner, Dick Kruta who had some angry words for Aldermen.
Mayor Jim Dagg is pledging the city’s help as Epiphany Station continues to search out a new home for their expanding congregation, a three year effort that has – so far – only yielded one zoning road-block after the next.
A rebroadcast of the City Council Meeting is available 24 hours a day on the City Website – citytrf.net.
It is an issue that will find its way back to the City Council Agenda tonight.
A request from Epiphany Staion and the owners of the former Home Lumber property to amend Thief River Falls City Code to allow churches to be sighted in areas zone General Business by Conditional Use Permit.
The change has been approved by the City Planning Commission but was tabled by the City Council last month over the issue of lost tax revenue, as much as $16,000 per year, due to tax exempt status.
In 1993, the Planning Commission and the City Council adopted a resolution barring churches from prime C-2 Commercial Zones for that very reason, after 2 congregations moved to property along Highway #59 East.
Since then the City Council has rezoned small portions within C-2 for two additional churches, an option that is no longer allowed by State Law.
The City Council is expected to act on the measure at tonight’s council meeting beginning at 5pm at City Hall, the Historic Soo Line Depot. Also on the agenda tonight, a 63 thousand dollar contract to AE2S for preliminary design of a 2 and a half million dollar water treatment expansion to bring Lime Sludge Ponds into MPCA compliance, adding a new Foreman position in the Street and Sanitation Department, and approval to fill a vacant Lineman position in the Electric Department.