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Neighbors upset about planned development

NEW ULM — A public hearing on the final plat of Oak Bluffs Ninth Addition on Tuesday brought out several neighboring property owners hoping to protect their property value and scenic views.

The Oak Bluff Ninth Addition was approved by the New Ulm Planning Commission in August. The owner of the plat intends to build multi-family homes between 6th North and 7th North in the lot adjacent to the New Ulm Diocese. The location is zoned to allow multi-family residences.

During the hearing neighbors in the Oak Bluff First Addition voiced their opposition to this plan. Several neighboring residences objected on the grounds this development could reduce property values. Some had purchased homes in the neighborhood with the understanding this land would remain undeveloped.

Property owner Joan Schraeder read a letter on behalf of the property owners. In the letter, Schraeder asked the council to reflect current property owners’ goals of preserving property values and privacy by requiring the developer landscape or put in a privacy fence. They also request the site plan reflect traffic safety. Traffic is already heavy due to the new high school and the Diocese.

The council was also presented with a petition signed by over 100 people in the area requesting the development be limited to higher-price single-family homes.

Schraeder explained that in 2000, she and her husband chose to land in the area because they were promised by the New Ulm Diocese that the land behind their home would never be sold or developed. Schraeder said this promise was also made to other property owners.

During the construction of the new Diocese building, Schraeder said she approached the bishop, and he reiterated this promise that the lot near her home would remain green space.

This spring the property was sold to M&D Properties.

“The big issue we’re struggling with is, a promise broken to us,” Schraeder said. “It is not a legal issue, we can’t prove it because they didn’t put anything in writing, but we were dealing with the Catholic Church, and we assumed their word was good. We’re pretty heartbroken over this.”

Mike Kral of M&D Properties spoke during the hearing and said he was unaware of the promises made by the Diocese. He wanted to give assurance that anything the company would build would be nice and could increase property values.

“It is probably going to generate $4 million in taxable revenue for the city,” he said.

The plan was to build high-end single-floor quadplexes.

Kral was willing to discuss potential landscaping or fencing to provide privacy. He did have concerns about who would be responsible for maintaining a fence.

City Councilor Larry Mack said he wanted to avoid making a fence a part of the requirement and develop a maintenance issue that could lead to further conflicts.

City Attorney Roger Hippert said the fence requirement could be part of a development agreement, but said Mack’s concerns were exactly why the city generally avoids a fence requirement.

Community Development Director David Schnobrich said this project would be subject to the city’s landscape requirements. Schnobrich was in discussion with the Diocese during the development in 2000. He said the front parcel of this land was always considered for development by the Diocese. The Diocese has since gone through bankruptcy hearings and other parties might be influencing the recent land sale.

Councilor David Christian asked if the city had any ability to restrict zoning to single-family homes.

Hippert said the land was zoned for multi-residential uses since 1968 and the M&D Properties proposal was lawful and is entitled to development.

Council Chair Charlie Schmitz said he and the council were sympathetic to the current residents’ situation, but it was beyond the city’s control.

“I don’t think we have much of a choice but to approve it,” Schmitz said.

Christian said the city had some control during the conditional use permit process, but could not require single-family homes to be built on-site.

Following the public hearing Councilor Lisa Fischer made the motion to approve the final plat of Oak Bluffs Ninth Addition, with a second from Mack. The motion was unanimously approved.

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