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Douglas County delays Gordon zoning change to seek legal advice

A Superior plan commissioner pointed to a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling on predetermined outcomes as a violation to a fair hearing as the zoning committee considered reversing a May denial.

Government Center in Superior
Government Center, Superior, Wis.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — When Roger and Glenda Finstad and Jim and Joan Good developed the Gordon Heights neighborhood in 1977, they envisioned a neighborhood of single-family homes nestled in the woods.

No one was thrilled when three duplexes buffered by woods were built in the neighborhood in the 1990s, but the buildings were well-managed and good people lived there, so the people on Gordon Heights Circle accepted them, said Brian Finstad, who grew up in the area in the home his parents built on the hill.

But adding commercial development to the mix is a step too far from the vision his parents had and for families with generational roots in the neighborhood, Finstad said.

And the county’s zoning committee put the brakes on the zoning change — for now — to seek a legal opinion before rubber stamping a zoning change that would allow Preferred Living LLC to build storage units adjacent to the duplexes in the neighborhood.

The zoning change from residential to commercial was on the Wednesday, July 13, agenda for the planning and zoning committee after it was referred back to committee by the Douglas County Board on June 16. The committee had previously denied the zoning change after hearing from residents in the Gordon Heights neighborhood.

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“We have basically one option with this and that is to approve it,” said zoning chair Mary Lou Bergman.

Finstad, a member of the Superior plan commission, testified that the zoning committee was incorrectly interpreting what was required of them, and that simply reversing its previous decision was a violation of a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in Marris vs. Cedarburg. The 1993 ruling determined that prejudicial statements made by the Cedarburg Board of Zoning Appeals chairman effectively denied Jean Marris a fair hearing and predetermined the outcome of her appeal to the board.

“You do have the ability to decide any way you want,” Finstad said. He said without a substantive change in circumstances concerning the zoning change, simply approving it would be a Marris violation.

Jenny Huesby grew up in the neighborhood and moved back to the area 12 years ago when her family purchased a home from her parents. She said she hopes the house will remain in the family for her children and their children.

“I want to reiterate that once it’s zoned commercial, it could be anything,” Huesby said.

While there are specific plans for the property owned by Quinn Musch, Huesby said subsequent owners could seek to expand the commercial zoning and change the character of the residential neighborhood.

Finstad said 100% of the people on Gordon Heights Circle previously testified they didn’t want the zoning change when the zoning committee first considered it in May. The town board approved it without adequate notification for neighbors to object, Finstad said.

When Huesby left the meeting in May, she said she felt heard and hoped the committee would show the same concern and care with their deliberations Wednesday.

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Glenda Finstad said commercial development in Gordon Heights was not the vision she or her husband had for the neighborhood where she still lives.

After hearing from residents in Gordon Heights, zoning coordinator Tessah Behlings said the committee could postpone a decision to seek input from corporation counsel because the county board won’t meet again until Aug. 18.

Supervisors Bill Fennessey and Jim Borgeson, who initially made the motion and second to approve the zoning change, withdrew their support for approval.

Borgeson and Supervisor Scott Luostari made the motion and second to refer the matter to the Aug. 10 meeting to get legal advice, which was accepted by the zoning committee.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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