After waiting two years, Jim and Sandi Continenza can build a new home at 13350 188th St. on Big Marine Lake.
In 2011 the Scandia couple requested a variance for lot size to put a house on two lots that, combined, total just under an acre. The minimum lot size in the general rural district is two acres.
They also needed a lot line adjustment because the house next door, where Jim Continenza’s mother lives, has one corner over the line.
The Continenzas wanted to hook both the new and existing houses into the city’s Anderson/Erickson 201 sewer system. (At that time, plans for the new home included seven bathrooms.) Washington County, which administered the 201 sewer, said the new home should use an on-site private septic system. The variance request was tabled so the city could learn more about Anderson/Erickson.
Thus began a process that resulted in what might be called a slew of positive outcomes. The thorough engineering study of the Anderson/Erickson system showed its status, what needs work, how much capacity it has. The city, not the county, now administers the sewer. The city organized a wastewater advisory commission, which made the recommendation to allow both houses to connect. And the Continenzas can finally build their house (which now will have five bathrooms) with no septic mound between the house and the lake.
But one condition that city staff recommended almost postponed the variance for another month. The Continenza’s lot extends over the street, which is narrow and has a retaining wall built into the hill on the opposite side. The condition requires that they dedicate to the city a 12-foot right-of-way on the combined lot for road maintenance, drainage and utilities.
Joe Christensen, attorney for the Continenzas, said that requirement is unfair unless it applies to all houses on that road. The plat was filed in 1956, he said, and the right-of-way is dedicated when the development goes in.
“Don’t make me be the only one,” Jim Continenza said. “If there’s a comprehensive plan you’re going to execute, then I’m in.”
The condition is also illegal, Christensen continued, according to Minnesota Statute 462.357: A condition must be directly related to, and must bear a rough proportionality to, the impact created by the variance.
Mayor Simonson offered to table the variance request to give the city attorney time to make a recommendation. When Christensen said “He hasn’t said anything,” Simonson responded, “He hasn’t researched it at this point, and I’m not going to have him make something up.”
To keep the momentum, the two sides agreed to approve the variance request, but with that one condition subject to agreement by the lawyers and approval by the city. If the right-of-way easement is just for normal snow plowing, Jim Continenza said, “I won’t stop you from doing it. I’ll put it in writing.” If no agreement can be reached, the effect will be the same as if the issue had been tabled.
To proceed, the Continenzas must submit a landscape plan, because they will be removing mature trees, and tear down an existing building. The two houses will have separate connections to the Anderson/Erickson 201 system.
The council agreed to allow the Continenzas an extra year, until Dec. 31, 2015, to build the house. Normally a variance is good for one year.
Christensen said the Continenzas will construct both sewer hook-up stubs, connect the existing house to the sewer, and pay both connection fees this year.
The vote to grant the variance was unanimous.
The council also voted unanimously to change the ordinance governing the 201 sewage treatment system, as recommended by the wastewater advisory committee. After this, properties that can accommodate an on-site system will be required to do so, because the 201 system is at or near capacity. Also, properties will no longer be allowed to install shared septic tanks.
The Continenzas had been through the variance process before. In May of 2009 the Scandia council granted a variance for a larger-than-allowed accessory building at 19423 Oxboro Ave. on a long, narrow lot on the east side of Sand Lake.
To store equipment for growing grapes and making wine, they wanted to expand the pole barn from 1200 to 3800 square feet.
Scandia ordinance permits a building up to 4500 square feet on 20 acres of dry ground, and when they bought the property, the survey showed 20.004 acres above the ordinary high water mark. But a new survey, using different criteria, arrived at 19.945 acres of dry land.
That variance was granted with no delay: the site visit, planning commission vote and council vote all occurred on the same day.