Pomroy residents object to red pole barn

A wooded street with expensive homes in Scandia is not a good place for a large, red pole barn visible from the street, according to the neighbors.

The Scandia Planning Commission addressed those concerns at the Nov. 5 meeting by recommending that the city require evergreen trees to screen the building from the road year-round and a barn color that is in harmony with the house, which has wood siding.

The pole barn came before the Planning Commission because the property owners at 21535 Pomroy Ave., David and Carol Schwinghammer, requested a variance to build it 8 feet closer to the road right of way than their house, in order to place it at least 75 feet from the edge of a wetland.

City Planner Sherri Buss recommended approval, saying the variance would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood and was unlikely to affect property values.

The neighbor across the street, Rita Erickson, disagreed.

If the barn were built as planned, she said at the public hearing, her house would face a 70-foot-wide red wall that’s 14 feet high. She showed pictures of another Scandia pole barn with tan siding, asking that a similar neutral color be chosen to blend into the woods.

Another neighbor, Doreen Kupfer, said the main reason to live on Pomroy was the woodland setting and the seclusion it offers. She suggested application of a Scandia ordinance requiring that accessory buildings resemble the principal structure on properties that are 4 acres or less, even though this property has 6.5 acres.

“Because of the marshes, this barn will be as close to the house as on a four-acre lot,” she said.

Jean Gray, who also lives on Pomroy, disliked the idea of a barn in a neighborhood where no farming activities or livestock are allowed.

In a letter, Pomroy resident Sue Rodsjo wrote that the development was designed for maximum privacy and asked the city to maintain its natural scenic beauty.

The Maple Hills subdivision of Pomroy, where the barn would be built, has no restrictive covenants.

Carol Schwinghammer defended the color choice. Traditional barns are red, she said, and she considers it a color that blends with the forest environment, as when leaves turn red in the fall.

The commission noted that existing deciduous trees will screen the barn in the summer, and the Schwinghammers have been adding trees. Carol Schwinghammer said they will plant more.

Dave Schwinghammer said the purpose of the pole barn is to park his pickup, which does not fit in the existing two-car garage, and to store an RV and other items.

He pointed out that the pole barn could be built without a variance by changing the dimensions. A longer, narrower structure would satisfy both road and wetland setbacks but would make the barn 95 feet long instead of 70, increasing the amount of wall visible from the road. Four of his neighbors, he added, have no objections to the barn as planned.

The vote to recommend approval of the variance with the two new conditions – conifers for screening and a barn color that matches the house – passed 3-2.

Commissioner Steve Philippi voted no because he wanted to pursue changing the elevation of the barn to reduce the visual impact and decrease the number of trees removed. The barn site is on a ridge and would require evening out the mound to make a flat surface for building, he said.

“There’s been no exploration of grading. Sinking it a few feet into the ground would reduce the bulk and the impact on existing vegetation.”

The city has not asked for a grading plan because no watershed district permit is required in this case.

The commissioners considered following Philippi’s advice by asking for a grading plan, but decided against this approach because it would delay progress by at least a month and did not have specific criteria.

Planning Commission Chair Christine Maefsky voted against recommending approval because she was uncomfortable with the city dictating color choice.

Other commissioners disagreed.

“I agree red is a traditional color for an agricultural building,” Peter Schwarz said, “but this is not an ag building and is not located in an ag neighborhood.”

The city can include color restrictions as part of granting a variance.

The evergreens recommended for screening must be at least 6 feet tall, according to the condition added by the Planning Commission.

The Scandia Council will make the final ruling at the Nov. 19 meeting, where the applicants and their neighbors will again have a chance to speak.