Stillwater City Council Denies Variances for Indoor Shooting Range

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The Stillwater City Council granted the Minnesota Shooting Academy a special use permit for the proposed indoor shooting range, but at half the size.

The Minnesota Shooting Academy had requested two variances from city code when they proposed a 7,000 square foot indoor shooting range and outdoor sporting goods retailer in the Simonet’s Furniture Building.

One variance was requested for the number of parking spaces the city required. The other variance was to the increase the limit of commercial recreation space allowed in the office park.

The council on a 3-1 vote — Council Member Mike Polehna dissenting, and Tom Weidner recusing himself from the discussion — approved the special use permit, but denied the two variances to city ordinance.

The commercial recreation space ordinance originated during a discussion years back when an indoor skate park was being proposed by a youth organization, Community Development Director Bill Turnblad said.

“During that discussion, it was intended that allowing a small amount of commercial recreation is one thing, but we still want its primary use to be office and office uses,” he said. “So a cap was set at 3,000 square feet.”

Council Member Dave Junker said he had a problem approving a proposal with two variances in place — one of which was to allow a 7,000 square foot space, which is 130 percent larger than what’s permitted.

“Variances are for minor adjustments,” Council Member Doug Menikheim added. “This isn’t a minor adjustment. It gives me cause for concern.”

Mayor Ted Kozlowski agreed.

“It’s always been my understanding that variances are about inches, not miles,” Kozlowski said.

When the 3,000 square foot ordinance was enacted, it was for an indoor skate park that was being proposed inside of an existing building, next to existing businesses, Polehna said. This is different, it’s a free-standing building.

Polehna suggested that the city council consider looking into amending the commercial recreational ordinance.

“If someone wanted to put a roller skating rink up there, they’d have to get a variance,” he said.

“For me this is about the size of the variance,” Kozlowski said. “If they want to do it, they have to conform to what the zoning rules say up there. This is massive. This is you’re allowed a 20 foot deck and you’re asking for 50 feet. It’s just not something we do in this town.”

If the council wants to change what the office park looks like, it’s the council’s responsibility to discuss that and look into changing it, Kozlowski said.

“If we want to see businesses like this — and I know many, many people do —  we need to look at our zoning, and I think we can amend our zoning to allow for different types of use without changing things drastically,” Kozlowski said. “f that’s something the council desires, we should look at that. I just have a really hard time ignoring the rules. I would rather look at them, deliberate them and change them — and conform to that — versus ignoring rules that we’ve set for ourselves as a city.

“It’s unfortunate that you guys have a great idea and the city isn’t ready for it,” the mayor added, “but I believe that’s where we’re at at this point.”

Officials with the Minnesota Shooting Academy told the Pioneer Press that they will look elsewhere to open an indoor gun range.

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