A regular meeting of the Hopkins Planning & Zoning Commission was held on July 25, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers of Hopkins City Hall.
Present were Commission Members Laura L. Daly, Kristin Hanneman, Brian Hunke, Matthew McNeil, Emily Wallace-Jackson and James Warden. Commissioner Libby Goeman was absent. Also present were Economic Development Intern Kurt Howard and City Planner Jason Lindahl.
Chair Hunke called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m.
Commissioner McNeil moved, Commissioner Hanneman seconded, to adopt the agenda. The motion was approved unanimously.
Commissioner Daly moved, Commissioner Warden seconded, to approve the minutes of the June 27, 2017, regular meeting. The motion was approved unanimously.
1. Planning Application 2017-06-TA: Alternative Energy Systems
Mr. Howard stated that this item has been initiated by staff to review the zoning code and identify barriers to the implementation of solar energy systems by residents and businesses in accordance with the Metropolitan Land Planning Act and the goals in Chapter 4 of the Hopkins Comprehensive Plan. Staff is participating in the SolSmart program, which provides free technical assistance to accomplish this objective, and preliminary stages of the program have included completion of a zoning review, which staff is asking the Commission to evaluate and provide feedback on to inform the preparation of a zoning code text amendment. SolSmart is a national designation program that offers high profile recognition for communities that have taken key steps to make it cheaper and easier to implement solar energy systems and signals to the solar energy business community that Hopkins invites economic development founded on principles of sustainability and environmental responsibility. The program addresses business process or administrative “soft” costs that increase time and money for installation. Designation is granted contingent on completion of a combination of required and elected steps for three levels of designation. Categories are weighted differently. Two foundational categories are (1) Permitting and (2) Planning, Zoning and Development. There are a number of other special focus categories. The City has submitted an initial application, which triggered a review of the city code by SolSmart to identify gaps and obstacles in the language that could be amended to further enable businesses and residents to install solar systems. Nine areas were identified. Staff proposes that the Commission examine the review and provide feedback.
Mr. Lindahl stated that although this is a national program, there is a local technical advisor working in the Met Council offices here, and staff has asked about issues specific to Hopkins, such as the landfill site, free-standing solar collectors, etc. This meeting serves to inform the Commission and have discussion before staff presents the actual ordinance for review. The City is not bound by any recommendation from SolSmart. Staff is looking at it from the viewpoint of what is good for Hopkins.
In response to questions from Commission, Mr. Howard clarified which actions were required for specific designations. He stated there is a lot of latitude in selecting actions.
Mr. Lindahl stated that the meeting tonight fulfills one requirement. In response to what can be expected to be achieved, Mr. Lindahl stated that technology advances such as Tesla shingles have and will continue to eliminate some of the need to regulate. Commissioners commented that solar PV systems amount to 50 percent of the cost and other hardware and soft costs amount to the other half. The Commission also asked about storage of energy and working with utility companies.
2. Planning Application 2017-07-TA: Sign Ordinance Update
Mr. Lindahl stated that discussion at this meeting will review the sign ordinance examples submitted by the Commission last spring, a public hearing will be scheduled in the future, and sign regulations are unique in that the content cannot be regulated because of First Amendment rights. He stated traffic, safety and aesthetic concerns must be met to create regulations, and the City Attorney is reviewing current regulations and the pamphlet from the League of Minnesota Cities. Mr. Lindahl stated the goal is to streamline regulations City-wide. He presented an overview of examples of present and potential regulations and issues and the photos of “liked and disliked” signs that Commissioners submitted previously. Discussion included:
Mr. Lindahl updated the Planning & Zoning Commission on the following items:
1. Pawn, Coin and Currency Exchange Zoning Amendment Discussion
Staff feels that feedback from Commission and Council have reached a point of consistency, and the concern is how to deal with payday lending and not be too restrictive. Staff will take the Commission’s comments to the Council and then come back for final feedback, bringing all three uses together. Considering the Council’s schedule, this will probably be done in September.
2. 2040 Comprehensive Plan Update—Cultivate Hopkins
The Council endorsed formation of an advisory committee, and the first meeting will be this Thursday. There were more applicants than would be manageable, so staff had to select members, trying to make the group demographically and geographically diverse and also considering owners vs. renters and gender. Still looking to fill demographic that has historic perspective (older generation). Approximately 1/3 of the group is familiar with city processes (2 Council members, 3 P&Z commissioners) and some with Citizens Academy experience or who have been otherwise engaged. The agenda for the first meeting is: (1) Comp Plan 101; (2) U of M professor on long-range planning issues; and, (3) consultants with summary of engagement and demographics profiles of city and how they fit together. The first meeting will “set the table” for subsequent meetings and try to mix in fun and conversation. Meeting times will be discussed and possibly adjusted at the first meeting, but are anticipated to be 5 to 8 meetings on Thursdays over the next 8 months from approximately 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Chairman Hunke expressed the Commission’s gratitude to outgoing Commissioner Gary Newhouse for serving on the Commission and giving his time, viewpoints and dedication to City. He wished him good luck in his next endeavor.
Commissioner McNeil moved, Commissioner Hanneman seconded, to adjourn the meeting. The motion was approved unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 8:16 p.m.