By Audrey Posten
The Marquette City Council, business owners and residents gathered at a special meeting on Oct. 24 to discuss the Marquette Board of Adjustment’s (BOA) decision to grant a variance to the Luana Savings Bank for 118 and 120 North St. The variance would allow the property to be sold as residential rather than commercial, going against the city code. Following the Oct. 15 regular city council meeting, the council had requested help from the business owners in deciding if the city should pursue litigation against the BOA over its decision.
Opening the meeting, Mayor Norma Mason cited a section from the city’s zoning regulations that said, “When a nonconforming use of a structure, or structure and premises in combination, is discontinued for 12 consecutive months or for 18 months during any two-year period, the structure thereafter shall not be used except in conformance with the regulations of the district in which it is located.” 118 and 120 North St. are located next to the post office in the downtown district, which is zoned for commercial use.
“This is what brought the whole thing to a head,” Mason said to the audience. “Now we have to make a decision on this district and we need your input.”
Attorney Jim Garrett said if the city chose to file a petition in district court asking the court to review and reverse the BOA decision, the odds would be in favor of the city, as the city code prohibits the BOA from granting a variance that permits a use the city does not permit.
“Even if the odds were not in your favor, at least you’d have an answer as to whether this is something the BOA can do,” he said. “Then you could adjust the ordinance accordingly.”
Cindy Halvorson, of Eagles Landing Winery, began the audience discussion by asking the council members what tourists had said to them about Marquette.
“They ask, ‘Where are all the businesses?’” said councilman Tracy Melver.
“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Halvorson responded. “They said this is a charming little river town where homes and businesses are intermingled. I know you’re trying to make it grow, so if they want it to be residential, then let it be. By making it all commercial, there won’t be homes and businesses side by side.”
Councilman Jason Winter said that, while he also appreciated Marquette’s status as a cottage community, its unique set-up is what makes the decision so difficult.
“Marquette’s never going to have the storefronts like McGregor,” he said, “but can we make it to allow anything and everything because it’s unique? I see one side and I see the other. It’s just a mess we have to get straightened out.”