Gust, Dingmann resurrect Fledgling debate

By Sara Quam

Residents paying their Luverne utility bills should look twice before dropping off payments.

In the mail this week, the city included a survey asking whether residents would support a funeral home being developed on the former Fledgling Field. Surveys were mailed with the utility bill.

Dan Dingmann, owner of Dingmann Funeral Home, said, "I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but it's what people have told me they want. I would've dropped this if I thought there was no support."

Mayor Glen Gust got the idea to survey the community during his campaign. "When I was door-knocking, it was an issue everyone was talking about. The citizens wanted a survey."

Fledgling Field, located along Highway 75, Luverne, was purchased last April by Cornerstone Construction, St. Cloud. It had the intention of constructing a funeral home and then selling it to Dingmann.

The Planning Commission and then City Council turned down the request to construct a business on the property, which is in a low-density residential zone. R-1 zones are held up to the highest standards, limiting development to housing only.

Dingmann said if the survey shows an overwhelming majority of the city supports development, Cornerstone will apply to have the land rezoned as R-I, or institutional, in which funeral homes are allowed as a conditional use.

Because the surveys are on utility bills, they aren't anonymous. The city doesn't expect to find that a problem in getting responses, though.

City Administrator Matt Hylen said residents who use the automatic withdrawal system will have the opportunity to respond as well.

The survey says

Curt Gacke was acting chair of the Planning Commission during the Fledgling Field decision-making process.

He said, "I don't need to see the survey results to find what people think. What I think is most fair is to consider the people that it really affects - the people who have to live near it every day."

Gacke said when he formed his decision on the issue, he considered the rules of the code books, not popular opinion. "If we're going to have votes now, there's no point in having a commission."

He compared the Fledgling issue to sidewalk proposals in some city developments a few years ago. People living in the affected areas didn't want sidewalks interrupting their landscaping, and the city followed their wishes.

Gacke guessed that if the sidewalks were put up to a vote, a majority of the citizens would have thought they were a fine addition to the neighborhoods. But the city sided with residents most affected, not citizens in general.

Retaining the purity of an R-1 zone was also used as a reason to deny a local business owner permission to develop rental near the fairgrounds, which still has an R-1 designation. Gacke said the city held its belief that strict zones should be kept above the progress of one business owner.

"To me, the issue is it's a business in a residential area," Gacke said.

That's why Cornerstone and Dingmann hope they'll be able to apply for complete rezoning of Fledgling Field instead of a permit. Dingmann said that will avoid the commission having to worry about legal action for allowing the wrong permit in the wrong zone.

Cornerstone has said it will develop the property into residential rental units if the city leaves it no other option.

Dingmann said, "There's going to be a groundbreaking this spring, whether it's a funeral home for me or residences for them."

Historically, funeral homes have been in residential areas - all seven of Luverne's funeral home locations have been in what are now R-1 zones.

Dingmann, owner of the funeral home since 1993, wants the development because his current location on West Main doesn't meet many codes. If he remodels it, the building will lose historic designation.

He maintains that a funeral home would fit well in Fledgling Field because of its proximity to churches and a state highway.

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