Mobile home sparks debate in Marquette

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Fearing the cost of a continued legal battle and damage to the city’s reputation, the Marquette Council chose to disregard the city’s zoning ordinance at its regular meeting Jan. 19 to allow a mobile home on a lot at the Timber Ridge housing development. The lot belongs to Dave Evans, who is building a home on the property, which he said will be completed this fall. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Fearing the cost of a continued legal battle and damage to the city’s reputation, the Marquette Council chose to disregard the city’s zoning ordinance at its regular meeting Jan. 19, to allow a mobile home on a lot at the Timber Ridge housing development.

The lot belongs to Dave Evans, who is building a home on the property, which he said will be completed this fall. In the meantime, he’s established a mobile home at the location, without a permanent foundation, a move that goes against both city and state codes, as the property is not within a mobile home park. Evans has also constructed a deck off of the mobile home.

The city has asked Evans to remove the mobile home and issued him several citations. Evans has fought the citations in district court, and is suing the board of adjustment for not granting him a variance to have the mobile home—without a foundation—on the property. According to Marquette’s city attorney Jim Garrett, the board of adjustment does not have the authority to grant a variance, but was compelled to hold a hearing, as Evans requested it.

Garrett said the magistrate ruled in Evans’ favor and has asked the city to grant a permit for the mobile home until Evans’ real home is constructed. If the city chose not to issue a permit or the board of adjustment a variance, Garrett said members of the board, as well as city manager Dean Hilgerson, who is the zoning administrator, could face jail time, even though issuance of a permit would go against city and state code.

With that on the line, Garrett said the council needed to give him direction on whether to appeal the rulings, which he felt could be reversed, and also decide whether it would enforce the city’s zoning laws.

“With zoning, you can’t pick and choose,” Garrett told the council, “or, eventually, you wouldn’t be able to enforce it against anyone.”

“Can’t we just leave it as is, then have [Evans] pay a fine later rather than have this commotion?” questioned councilwoman Eleanor Soulli.

If the council did not want to pursue enforcement against Evans, Garret said, “You either have to change the code or get rid of zoning.”

“You’re talking about not defending the city code?” asked councilwoman Rinda Ferguson of her fellow council members Soulli, Pam Brodie-Fitzgerald and Cindy Halvorson. John Ries was not in attendance. “We’re elected to uphold the city code.”

“We need to change our zoning ordinance because it’s wrong,” Brodie-Fitzgerald countered. “It’s 13 years old. It needs to grow with a city that’s growing.”

Brodie-Fitzgerald feared continuing a legal battle against Evans would tarnish the city’s reputation and discourage further development.

“We’re talking about defending the city’s reputation,” she explained. “The guy is putting in a million-dollar house and you’re stopping him. We need to do something to sell lots.”

She added that other residents would likely be interested in living on-site while constructing homes in Marquette.

“My concern is that we will have that go up all over the city,” stated mayor David Schneider, noting that the council has to think of the repercussions to the city if zoning is not upheld. “We have to think about down the road.”

Brodie-Fitzgerald and Halvorson also voiced concern over incurring legal costs, which Garrett admitted could cost thousands of dollars.

“But what’s the value of the city code and zoning?” Ferguson asked.

Brodie-Fitzgerald, Soulli and Halvorson voted “yes” to a motion not to appeal the ruling, while Ferguson voted “no.”

Garrett said that would do away with any threat of jail time. 

“The magistrate will not find anyone in contempt of court unless Evans asks them to, and he won’t if you let it by,” he said.

Evans, in attendance at the meeting, agreed.

“I’ll drop the suit if they’ll leave me alone,” he said.

Garrett said he would write a letter to Evans’ attorney, stating that the council was not going to enforce its zoning ordinance.

“I have a hard time with this,” said Schneider at the end of the discussion, “but I guess it’s what the council wants.”

City water

Public works director Jason Sullivan updated the council on corrective work planned for a city well after tests found city water had higher amounts of radium. Sullivan said he will work with the DNR to fill in the bottom of the well, capping it at 600 feet, at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000. Radium is coming in from the deeper part of the well, he said, hopeful this solution would fix the problem while still giving the city the same volume of water.

Edgar Street project

The council approved preliminary plans, presented by Delta 3 Engineering, for the Edgar Street project, which will include sanitary sewer work and construction of a bike/pedestrian trail.

Bench evacuation route

The council approved of seeking four quotes from engineering firms in order to develop a city evacuation route off the bench.

“It’s something everyone living up there has been looking for, so we have to do it right,” Schneider said.

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