Willmar Planning Commission approves preliminary plan for unique development situation near railway yard

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Jun. 13—WILLMAR

— A unique situation was discovered for a property located along Benson Avenue Southeast and the railroad tracks after an application to develop the property for a BNSF Railway maintenance facility was submitted by Daniel Temple.

When presenting a preliminary plan for the property at the May 18 meeting of the Willmar Planning Commission, it was explained that a 20-foot easement exists for a 36-inch pipe that goes right through the middle of the property located at 223 Benson Ave. SE and continues through the railway yard.

Willmar Planning and Development Director Justice Walker said he thought it was "very interesting" that there was this pipe going through the property, and assumed the pipe was abandoned since it goes under the railway yard and could not be fixed. However, he was assured by Willmar Municipal Utilities that it was not abandoned, and there are multiple pipes like this throughout town.

There is a house on the property that was built in the 1940s directly over the easement, as well as a 33-foot-by-60-foot hoop shed, according to Temple. The preliminary plan also included development of the property located at 137 Benson Ave. SE, on which there is currently a steel pole shed that was constructed in the 1940s.

Both properties are zoned general industrial district, and the use for which the buildings are being constructed is similar to existing uses, according to Walker.

Questioning how a house was built in an industrial use zone over this 20-foot easement, Temple stated, "That's created a hardship for us, so we'd like some consideration on it."

The consideration to which Temple was referring is approving the preliminary plan contingent on the new building being granted a variance for setbacks by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

"Consider all aspects, but as far as staff sees it, I think the easement going through the property is grounds for a variance," Walker told the commission at the June 1 meeting, at which the commission approved the preliminary plan with the contingency.

The original site plan for the lots had to be revamped following the discovery of the easement.

The revised plan is to construct a new building on the footprint of the hoop building on the 223 lot and construct a 106-foot-by-100-foot building on the 137 lot, Temple said. The house on the 223 lot, currently occupied by a small business, would remain on the property.

"As I mentioned last time, the property is going to be greatly improved by having new buildings on it," Temple told the commission.

There is currently a small car repair shop located in the steel pole building on the 137 lot, and that business will remain while the hoop building on the 223 lot is demolished and a new building constructed, according to Temple.

Once the new building is constructed on the 223 lot, the car repair business will move to that building. Then, the steel pole building will be demolished and a new larger building constructed.

The new 106-foot-by-100-foot building will be a maintenance facility for BNSF Railway with five bays in the front of the building, two of which are drive-through so the railroad property can be accessed easily. The building will also house locker rooms, meeting rooms, and some office space, according to Temple.

Temple explained it is typical not to have setbacks along railroad property, and there are currently no setbacks for the hoop building on the property.

"This particular location has a lot of benefits for the railroad, because of its proximity to the railroad property," Temple continued. "But, they don't want to buy anything; they want to lease. That's what we are here to try to help them with."