On July 18, 2023, a significant number of residents from Benton Avenue participated in the City Council Meeting. Among them, Cory Johnson and Todd Buchanan expressed common concerns on behalf of the neighborhood regarding short-term rentals during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Mr. Johnson indicated that currently, there is no existing short-term licensing program in place. Additionally, he indicated there are issues regarding the density of short-term rentals, specifically the clustering of numerous short-term rentals in a single neighborhood or area.
Finally Mr. Johnson stated there are discrepancies between the 2040 Comprehensive plan, which emphasizes the significance of single-family homes, and the commercial utilization of a group of homes within the neighborhood for short-term rental purposes.
During the City Council Meeting, Mr. Buchanan, a resident of Benton for the past 19 years, shared his perspective. He expressed the widespread concerns among the neighborhood residents about the growing concentration of short-term rentals at the end of Benton. These rentals have emerged in recent years and have brought along several associated problems such as increased traffic, weekend events, and parties.
“Concentrated clusters of short term rentals disrupt the sense of community, and permanence that is essential for fostering a strong neighborhood. The indiscriminate conversion of single family owner occupied homes into transient accommodations not only detracts from the long term stability but also detracts from the affordable housing options available,” stated Buchanan. He listed a number of municipalities that have put into place STR regulations in recent years.
Mayor Johanna Mouton responded, “We have a strategic planning session coming up, and we will consider as a council if the short term rental piece is going to be something that we focus on in the short term. We have considered as a council years ago and in fact I was the one who had brought it up to consider having some type of licensing or regulation in place. The majority of the Council did not agree that it was time or place to put something like that in motion. That was probably close to eight years ago, times and circumstances change, so we will discuss collectively as a group if the majority of the council feels that this is something that we need to address and frankly want to invest your money because it will be a long and expensive process to enact if that’s the way we want to go.”
Stay tuned to Wayzata.com for more information on this story.
The maximum property tax levy increase for 2023 could be more than residents are accustomed to.
The city council was presented the preliminary property tax levy during Tuesday’s meeting. Administrative services director Aurora Yager broke down the need for the increase, along with the preliminary general fund and enterprise fund budgets.
City staff starts the budgeting process during the summer months, preparing for a final budget at the end of the year.
The recommended preliminary property tax levy increase for next year is 10.59-percent. The levy must be approved by the council and certified to Hennepin County by Friday, Sept. 30.
“In my six years on the council and two years in this role — this is the largest increase I have seen, It’s not a number we have ever entertained.”
MAYOR JOHANNA MOUTON
The largest factor in the increase, according to Yager, is to pay for additional staffing. Public safety in particular will see an increased investment with the addition of two more police officers.
“Just paying for employees is about 60-percent of our budget. That’s what it takes to provide services.”
The city is working toward having two officers on duty at all times. With the number of officers currently with the police department this is not possible. Yager said it would really take three more officers to achieve that goal.
Currently, the police department is a more than $2.6 million expenditure for the city. The proposed budget increase would add another $46,812 to the department.
“I applaud how well the city has been run financially for as long as I’ve known. This has been a painful year to look at these things,” said councilor Alex Plechash. “It’s my view we do need what we’re asking for. I feel it’s one that’s warranted.”
Plechash said the largest complain he hears from residents is about evening activity on Lake Street.
“For the most part people love Panoway. It’s added vibrancy to the community,” he said. “With that comes the negative that we have some things we need to take care of.”
Following Plechash’s comments, councilor Cathy Iverson asked what the true cost of maintaining Panoway is. Public works director and city engineer Mike Kelly said the city has only just started tracking that data.
The property tax increase, if at the maximum rate proposed, would cost the median homeowner an additional $110.
While the increase took some of the council aback, Yager shared how it compares to neighboring cities. Even with an increase of more than 10-percent, Wayzata would have the second lowest tax levy rate among those cities. The city’s property tax rate makes up about 18-percent of a property owner’s property tax statement.
Councilors Iverson and Molly MacDonald voiced their hesitation to certify the rate increase. MacDonald said she believes it can be lowered. When the time came for roll call, Iverson was the only one to vote against certifying.
“A double digit increase is significantly high in my opinion,” she said. “I’m not very comfortable at this moment.”
Yager said she has heard of possibly larger rate increases from neighboring cities ranging from 5- to 22-percent.
“We’ll see what happens when those other communities release their levies,” she said. “I would not be surprised to see higher.”
With the preliminary property tax levy certified at an increase of 10.95-percent, the council can only increase the tax by that amount or less. It cannot increase by more than the rate it certified to the county.
The 2023 general fund assumes an increase of 5.37-percent in operating expenses. Cities across the country are losing one revenue source with the expiration of American Rescue Plan funds.
The total revenues for the city in 2022 are estimated at $7.5 million and projected to increase to about $7.9 million in 2023.
Yager said the proposal for the general fund is for a balanced budget. The council approved the preliminary budget. Iverson voted ‘nay.’
Text Amendment costs debated in fee schedule
When discussing the next agenda item, the adoption of the 2023 fee schedule, Iverson asked about zoning amendment fees. The fee schedule for 2023 has a text amendment fee of $2,195 with an escrow of $3,822. Both are increases of more than $100 over 2022.
“There has been someone that has reached out to the city asking why it’s so much higher than our other cities,” Iverson said. “Plymouth’s is $300 with no escrow. Excelsior is $700 with no escrow. Why such a high cost? It seems extremely elevated.”
Yager said she would not dispute those numbers, but she said cities such as Minnetonka have fees which are similar to Wayzata’s.
City attorney David Schelzel clarified what escrow is used for. He said it helps the city ensure legal processing fees and professional service fees are covered by the applicant. What is not used is then refunded to the applicant. On larger projects, staff may request a larger escrow.
Schelzel went on to say the escrow fee is important to the city because of the amount of “sophisticated development” that happens in Wayzata.
“Your single-family homeowner who is doing a small project, those fees are not going to be all used like that,” Schelzel said.
“For these big development applications when we have a PUD and we’re talking tens of millions of dollars, I’m not too concerned if they can make $3,800 work,” Mouton said. “I think they can scrape that together.”
The signing, or lack of signing, of the city’s new code of conduct policy for elected officials, boards and the public sparked the continuation of tensions on the city council dais Tuesday.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s regular meeting, the city council and Mayor Johanna Mouton were asked to hand in the newly adopted code of conduct documents with their signatures to city manager Jeff Dahl. After a short recess more than 2 hours later, Mouton and Dahl brought to the attention of the room that one document was returned without a signature. This document was returned by councilor Cathy Iverson.
The code of conduct was unanimously passed by the council during its Aug. 3 meeting.
“I voted in favor knowing I would not sign it,” Iverson answered. “It’s a personal decision and I would not like to discuss it on public TV.”
Councilor Alex Plechash asked that the code be shared with the public.
“I have grave concerns if I have a colleague that does not want to abide in a code of conduct we passed,” he said. “I want the public that has elected that council member to actually see what she has decided not to agree to.
Iverson noted that while she did not sign the document, she has carried herself according to the code at meetings. While Iverson was speaking, Plechash voiced his disagreement.
“I feel like I’m being bullied right now, and that’s part of the reason I am not signing it,” Iverson responded.
Iverson is not legally obligated to sign such a document, which she mentioned and Mouton agreed.
What inspired the code of conduct?
The code of conduct will be given to all members of the city government’s boards and commissions for signatures moving forward. Dahl noted it will also be included in the orientation process for new board and commission members, as well as a reference point for evaluations.
The code also carries expectations for members of the public who attend these meetings.
In an interview with Dahl, he said it was an incident last fall which inspired the drafting of the code. He did not elaborate on what that incident was.
“It is to keep everyone safe and have a well functioning meeting,” he said. “It’s just nice to have clear expectations for rules and responsibilities of elected officials, staff and members of the public.”
Prior to the vote approving the code of conduct on Aug. 3, Iverson and Mouton engaged in a debate related to conduct. At that meeting, Dahl reiterated the conversation was not a catalyst for the drafting of the code.
“This is just best practice for local government to have an effective and efficient governing body,” he said. “It is not a result of any one thing with the councilors.”
Iverson maintains stance
Mouton referred to Iverson not signing the code of conduct as “another disappointing example.” Iverson quickly answered the comment.
“Do we want to talk about censurship and the repercussions of you guys censuring me?” she asked. “Because that was a question that was asked. What happens if we feel somebody is not following the code of conduct? We will censure them.”
In government, censuring is a formal acknowledgement of disapproval from a body towards one of its representatives. It does not carry any direct punishment such as removal of position, but it can be damaging to public trust in an elected official or among that official and their colleagues.
Mouton answered Iverson’s question by stating censurship is an option anytime a colleague ‘falls outside the norms of behavior,’ or breaks the law.
“It’s a violation of my First Amendment,” Iverson said.
Wayzata Gateway ignites disagreement
The conversation over Iverson’s conduct at council dates back to a meeting on July 19. During that meeting the council approved a redevelopment proposal for 900 Wayzata Blvd E., known as the site of the Wells Fargo building.
The project, referred to as the Wayzata Gateway, will include the construction of an office building, apartments and 5,500 square foot bank.
Iverson was the only council member to vote against the proposal, citing concerns about the design, height and overall massing of the buildings. After the vote, Iverson exited the meeting. There was another new business agenda item remaining, the approval of excessive fund transfers. She was marked on record for leaving at 10:39 p.m.
On Aug. 3, Iverson expressed her disappointment about the approval of the project before the council entered the consent agenda portion of the meeting. She said the approval of the project was not consistent with the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, or with other projects which had been denied by the council.
“In my 11 years involved with the city I have never seen a project of this size approved without any changes to the design, scaling or massing of the building,” she said. “I don’t even know how to react to it. I am just completely baffled.”
Mouton took exception to the comments and the setting in which they were shared.
“It’s an unfair statement to make that this council — were not willing to entertain discussion about many of those items, because we were,” Mouton continued. “We discussed many of those. I am disappointed in that at this juncture you choose to make a statement that you feel we have not done our job.”
Iverson disagreed, stating she did not feel she was given the chance to have an open discussion about her concerns.
“I tried and it did not happen,” she said. “The decision for me to put something on paper did not come lightly.”
Mouton added that she was also disappointed in Iverson’s actions after the item was approved, referring to her leaving the meeting while it was in session.
“You not only disappointed this council but you stormed out and you neglected your duties as a council member,” Mouton said. “You failed your duties as a councilor.”
“My decision to walk out may not have been a professional decision,” Iverson responded. “It was my reflection of the view of the council, of the decision of the council to continue to disregard my design expertise.”
Mouton said no members of the council have tried to limit another’s point of view.
Iverson denied a request for comment. Mouton did not respond before the publishing deadline.
The city council will next meet for a regular meeting on Aug. 30.
Phase 2a and 2b of the project will now move for the construction design step in the process. This is where city staff and its consultants will fine tune the details of the project, including a cost estimate, before putting the project out to bid.
Jessica Houlihan, founder of development consulting firm Onyx Strategic Partners, outlined the timeline of what is to come. Her expectation is construction design will be finished to return in front of council by December. Once the designs are approved, the project will go out to bid. After a contractor is chosen, construction could begin as soon as March 2023.
“We walked all the way through the schedule with one firm and it’s about a six month project,” Houlihan said. “We should be done in the fall.”
Phase 2a, the boardwalk and shoreline, carries a $6.78 million budget while the docks are estimated at $770,000. The budget for the Section Foreman House, Phase 2b, is $1.27 million.
The city has secured $4 million in bond funding for the project. It will draw an estimated $2.62 million from tax increment financing and the remaining portion is slated to come from private or ‘other’ sources. The Wayzata Conservancy has pledged funding for the Section Foreman House, which it is currently fundraising for, as well.
“What we’ve done is plan for the maintenance and operations for 10 years,” said city manager Jeff Dahl. “The Wayzata Conservancy, to decrease the burden on the city, have agreed to fund maintenance and operations for the remainder of the project so taxpayers of Wayzata won’t be burdened with that.”
According to community development director Emily Goellner, the conservancy has raised about $250,000 for the Section Foreman House and will also pay for construction design plans for that part of the project.
Councilor Cathy Iverson was the lone council member to vote against approving the design.
“Can we feel confident telling the residents this will not be a tax burden,” Iverson said. “I have a lot of concerns about how it’s going to be paid for.”
Mayor Johanna Mouton noted a better picture of the costs will not come until after construction design is completed. Councilor Alex Plechash said he also had reservations about the funding, but not enough for him to vote against the design. The mayor and other members of the council said they were comfortable with the funding sources.
“We’ve been steadfast that we would not levy the taxpayers of Wayzata to pay for this,” Mouton said. “We have not done so.”
Baja Haus outdoor patio approved
The council unanimously approved a conditional use permit for a seasonal outdoor patio at Baja Haus, 830 E. Lake Street.
Applicant and co-owner Josh Friedt said his restaurant’s temporary outdoor patio was helpful for his business during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020-21.
“To me it was a huge success,” Friedt said. “I don’t want to say it saved my business but it was definitely a big help.”
The request was to use four parking spaces outside of the restaurant for a temporary pergola. Inside it would fit eight tables seating four each. The patio would be used from May to October. When not in use, the space would be opened back up for parking.
“The people I spoke to that used the outdoor patio during the pandemic really loved it,” Iverson said. “I only heard positive things from the community.”
Former Wayzata Texaco Site
The council also approved a lot combination, comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning of two parcels at 1022 E. Wayzata Blvd.
These parcels were discussed for development in front of the council in April with the proposal of adding a drive thru coffee business. The property is home to a gas station which is no longer in use. To the south, there is a small residential parcel which is considered difficult to develop because of its size and location.
The rezoning of the property changes the newly combined parcel to a C-3 property for retail use.
The planning commission unanimously recommended approval and the council voted 4-1 in favor.
City to study new THC law for up to a year, manufacturing and sales prohibited
The Wayzata City Council declared an emergency moratorium on the manufacturing, distribution and sale of edible cannabinoid products containing hemp.
The moratorium immediately prohibits anyone from selling or manufacturing edibles in Wayzata. The council approved the emergency declaration, and subsequent ordinance with a four-fifths vote in favor on Wednesday. Councilor Alex Plechash was not in attendance for the meeting.
The discussion over what to do about edible cannabinoid products comes after the Minnesota Legislature enacted a new law allowing certain edible and beverage products containing THC to be sold. The decision came during the legislative session in May. The law came into effect officially on July 1.
“Regardless of how this all came to be, little information was provided to cities to determine the level of regulation if needed,” said Jeff Dahl, City Manager. “We think, similar to alcohol and tobacco, there certainly could be impacts to our community with licensing, zoning and general public safety.”
Dahl expects the legislature to come forward with regulations at some point, which he said is often what happens.
The moratorium is effective for one year, or until it is ended through a vote by the city council. During this time, the city is required to study the issue and take action.
If someone is in violation of the moratorium they will face penalties similar to violating a zoning ordinance, according to Dahl. He also stated the moratorium has no impact on people who are prescribed medical marijuana. It is specifically targeted at edible cannabinoid products containing hemp.
“Swear to God I didn’t know what cannabinoid oil was before this,” Dahl said. “It’s essentially a mind altering substance.”
Mayor Johanna Mouton asked if the moratorium would immediately stop someone who has already started selling products. Dahl said it would.
If the state were to come forward with regulations before the end of the moratorium, the moratorium would remain in effect. The city would have the option to end the moratorium and adopt the state regulations if it chooses.
Incumbent City Councilwoman Molly MacDonald and Planning Commission Chair Jeff Parkhill have filed so far
The race for Wayzata City Council is underway as the filing window from August 2nd through August 16th is now open.
Wayzata City Council member Molly MacDonald has filed to enter the race.
MacDonald was previously appointed to a vacant seat by the Council when then Councilwoman Johanna Mouton was elected Mayor in the 2020 election and began serving her term in 2021.
Image courtesy City of Wayzata.
Councilman Jeff Buchanan’s 4 year term also expires at the end of the year.
Buchanan did not immediately return a message inquiring as to whether or not he intends to run again. He previously served as the Chair of the Planning Commission and was elected in the 2018 election.
Image courtesy City of Wayzata.
Planning Commissioner Jeff Parkhill has filed to run for Wayzata City Council. He currently serves as the Chair.
Parkhill was a finalist for Mouton’s vacant seat appointment in 2020.
Interested parties may pick up an application at Wayzata City Hall during business hours. The filing fee is $5, and candidates must be 21 years of age or older and be a Wayzata resident for 30 days prior to the Nov. 8th election.
*Filing information current as of the end of the business day on 08/2/2022.