Scandia City Council delays decision on cable TV

Mary Bailey
Staff Writer

After setting in motion a plan for Scandia to withdraw from the Forest Lake Cable Commission, Scandia Mayor Randall Simonson recommended at the Tuesday, Aug. 21 meeting that the council take no action for six months.

The council agreed, and no vote was taken on the resolution.

Simonson said looking at the cable commission was part of a city initiative to review all contracts.

In addition, he questioned the effectiveness of the group. As a member of the commission, he said, he has been concerned that “perhaps things aren’t as stable as they need to be,” especially issues brought up in the March 2011 meeting of Forest Lake, Columbus, and Scandia, the three cities that make up the commission.

Simonson noted several recent changes, including new staff. “Now there are a lot of new things on the table,” he said, and recommended the council delay action “to see if things continue on a good path.”

If the cable commission becomes stronger and more viable, and Scandia is well-served, he said, the city may continue participation.

The council had earlier postponed a decision in order to review a Public-Education-Government Access Review Report released to the commission shortly after the July 17 meeting.

Variance postponed

The council also decided to wait 60 days before voting on a variance request to allow a gazebo and deck close to Big Marine Lake.

Joseph Matt lives at 13440 N. 182nd St., on the south side of the lake. In 2007 he tore down an old shed as part of a project to build new retaining walls for erosion control. The shed was inside the required 100-feet setback from the lake, but because it was built before the current ordinances were in place, it was considered a legal nonconforming structure.

If Matt had built a new shed of the same size in the same spot within 180 days, the new shed would also be legal, according to state statute and city code.

But five years later, on June 5 of this year, the city issued a stop work order to prevent completion of a 10-by-14-feet gazebo and deck that total 300 square feet.  Matt was told he must remove the structures or apply for a variance.

The planning commission voted to deny the variance on August 7, while encouraging Matt to continue talks with the city to find a solution.

The council also had on the table a motion to deny the variance, but instead voted for a 60-day extension until the October meeting. The vote was unanimous.

In the meantime, Matt must provide the city with an official survey that shows the ordinary high water mark, existing structures, hard surfaces and setbacks. He must also submit a new plan for the structure.

Matt asked for the extension. The reason the shed was not replaced sooner, he said, was that it had to be torn down to fix the erosion problem, and the retaining wall project took four years to complete.

He said former building inspector Steve Thorp told him the shed could be replaced, if pictures and documentation were available to show where the old shed was. “Steve would address problems and try to find a solution,” Matt said.

Council member Chris Ness, also a Big Marine Lake resident, said he remembers the old structure, and this one is much bigger. “If you said you needed 6-by-8-foot storage, I’d listen, but you are not replacing what was there,” Ness said.

City Administrator Anne Hurlburt agreed, saying a gazebo and deck do not fulfill the need for storage.

Matt expressed a willingness to reduce the size, making the deck narrower.

After the survey and new plans are done, there is no guarantee Matt’s variance will be approved.

To grant a variance, the city must be convinced that the practical difficulties in the situation were not caused by the landowner. In this case, City Planner Sherri Buss said they were. She also said there is another spot on the property where a storage shed could be located.

Matt said the lot offers no other option, given the oak trees, backyard slope and septic tank location.

The council will revisit the Matt variance request at their October meeting.

Two other variances recommended by the planning commission were approved by the council.

Carol Varhalla, 18819 Layton Ave. N., was granted a variance from maximum lot coverage requirements and a conditional use permit for construction of a two-story detached garage.

Instead of the maximum 25 percent, Varhalla’s garage will cover 32 percent of the 0.27-acre lot. The permit is required because the garage will be two stories tall. She must prevent additional storm water from reaching the lake and waive the right to build an additional accessory structure.

Steve and Jessica Howe, 15243 N. 209th St., were given a variance to build a detached garage closer to the street than their house.

The garage will be 40 feet from the street, while the house is 70 feet back. The city planner said granting the variance achieves the goals of the ordinance better than enforcing it, because trees and views will be preserved and steep slopes left undisturbed.

The council also approved a conditional use permit for DeLynn Lalli to open a massage studio at 21190 Ozark Ave. N. All three votes were unanimous.

Capital projects

The council approved the first payment, $177,630, to Allied Blacktop Company for this summer’s seal coating and bituminous patching project.

City Engineer Phil Gravel said Washington County plans to replace the failing concrete curb and sidewalk on Olinda Trail from south of 205th St. to just north of Scandia Trail, beginning in October, at no cost to the city.

The low bid for the Uptown Wastewater System improvement project was $138,693, about 30 percent higher than the engineer’s estimate of $105,000.  “Long story short, the estimate was flat-out wrong,” Brian Malm of Bolton and Menk said.  Bids ranged from $138,000 to $204,000.

Malm said the low bidder, Septic Check, has agreed to about $10,000 in cost reductions for nonsubstantive changes, such as using an alternate aerobic treatment unit.

The vote to award the contract to Septic Check was unanimous. The project will be financed with an internal loan from the capital improvement fund.

Other actions

The council accepted a new Polaris Ranger UTV valued at $11,425 from the Scandia Fire Relief Association.

As in 2010, the council voted not to take an automatic pay raise that would take effect January 1. The vote was unanimous.

The mayor’s salary will remain at $3,882 and council salaries at $3,148. Adjustment happens automatically if the council does not repeal the ordinance each time. The next possible pay increase will be January of 2015.


To replace former employee Roberta Hummel, the council authorized advertising for a part-time office assistant at $11.38 to $13.91 per hour. The office assistant must work flexible hours and share a workstation with the city treasurer.