Council discusses new options for bufferyards


BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council last week discussed updates to bufferyards, which are landscaped areas between residential and business/industrial zones.

It was a first reading on July 28 and the public hearing is set Aug. 11.

“The current ordinance requires landscaped areas serve as bufferyards between residential properties and business/industrial zoned properties. The landscaped areas range in size from 25-50 feet depending on the zoning district; however, there is no requirement for vertical screening. The goal of the new ordinance is to provide an option of a smaller bufferyard with vertical screening for privacy,” according to a memo by Mike Struck, Community Development director, available as an attachment to the agenda on the city’s website.

“You really can’t do anything within that area except for plant grass (that had to be mowed),” he said at the meeting, adding that property owners could not put in a parking lot, any type of structure, or access drive.

“It really didn’t provide any protection other than distance from the adjacent residential property,” he said.

“What staff is proposing is an amendment that provides some flexibility and some options to property owners. … And the overall intent is to try and achieve better design,” Struck said.

Owners can still opt for the grassy area between properties, but the new proposal would give them the option of vertical screening, landscaping and planting, fencing, and berming, not only as a buffer, but as visual separation, he said.

Options will vary, depending on what is on the adjacent property, like a parking lot or another building, he said.

Struck used graphics to illustrate the different options to the council.

As an example, property owners can opt to plant trees and shrubs to cut down on headlight glare from a parking lot, he said.

Councilor Leah Brink asked how Struck’s department planned to educate the public on the changes.

“As proposals come forward, that’s really our opportunity to educate them,” Struck said. Other opportunities come up when lots are rezoned and “on a case-by-case basis as people … come in or are looking at doing projects.”

Brink asked whether it could be retroactive. Struck said it wouldn’t be automatic, but people could come in and check if they had the ability to do so.

Councilor Ope Niemeyer asked if neighbors would have any input and Struck said it depends on the type of use. If it meets the conditions of the use, it could be permitted; if it’s a special use, there’s a public hearing process, Struck said.

“I think that this is exciting,” Bacon said, and will offer Brookings aesthetic improvements in the community.

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne asked if the new setbacks would automatically be in the design plan, or would there be a process involved. Struck said it could be a new standard, providing they meet the screening requirements. 

Councilor Nick Wendell said he saw the aesthetic value, but asked if Struck thought 20 feet was adequate for a sound barrier.

“We did discuss that internally” because there was concern over businesses that operated into the evening and produced noise, Struck said. Those circumstances could trigger a 6-foot privacy fence and “vertical vegetation” to help block noise. 

“Trees really do a wonderful (job) at helping modify some of that sound so it doesn’t carry as far,” Struck said.

City Manager Paul Briseno considered sustainability, saying the city only has about 10 years’ worth of land remaining.

“So, from a business perspective, this allows a business to fully maximize their site. At the same time, it allows us to increase aesthetics between neighbors,” Briseno said, adding that maintenance of trees, shrubs and anything else a property owner puts in would be required by code.

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne asked if water runoff was considered; in some cases, there might be less square footage of green space, meaning there will be less permeable surface.

No studies have been done, but Struck has noticed some things from other projects. When trees are removed, there is more of a water problem because when trees are present, they absorb water.

“So adding trees in, it’s a great way to help with the tree canopy, as well as the root systems, to absorb water,” Struck said, adding additional green space does the same thing. Adding more impervious surfacing would have the opposite effect.

Developments usually have to provide a drainage plan, Briseno noted. Struck explained the finer points, which depend on how large the property is and how much surfacing they will have. 

“We do encourage best management practices when you get into our landscaping … rain gardens, bioswales, just to do a better job of managing that water,” Struck said.

Other items

Struck explained the two other items under first readings on the agenda. Both public hearings are set for Aug. 11. 

One ordinance was to rezone lots in Skinners Third Addition on Second Street South by the railroad tracks from residence to business. 

The second ordinance pertained to a Conditional Use Permit to establish a concrete plant in the Telkamp Industrial Addition. The property is located in the southwest corner of Prince Drive and 32nd Avenue South. 

The council last week also approved two alcohol licenses for the Backyard Grill; one was a malt license, the other a wine license. 

COVID update

Briseno gave a COVID-19 update with current information from the South Dakota Department of Health, and professionals from South Dakota State University, Brookings Health System and clinics.

“At the next meeting, staff will present the city’s plan … that incorporates the various ordinances we have available, as well as thresholds or metrics that we’ve utilized to move between those,” Briseno said.

Brink asked how much police and staff time is being spent on COVID-related questions and ordinances.

“I would say it’s relatively low,” Briseno said. 

“I know (July 25-26) weekend, we did have the police department check one business we did have a complaint on,” he said.

Employees of bars, restaurants and salons are required to wear masks. Employees of retail businesses are only required to have partitions between the cashier and customers.

“When we do get calls, we address them immediately,” Briseno said. “We did have one call (that) weekend; found that there were no issues. 

“We receive very little calls,” he said, adding people can call city hall or use the Engage Brookings app.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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