Pet treat business ‘missed opportunity,’ council members say

MARSHALL — A conditional use permit request that would have made it possible for a pet treat company to move into the former County Fair supermarket building never made it as far as the Marshall City Council. After some intense opposition from neighboring residents, the Chasing Our Tails company owner decided not to come to Marshall, and the CUP request was withdrawn Tuesday night.

But while they didn’t all share the same views on the permit request, several city council members said they would have supported the proposal.

On Friday, the Independent reached out to individual council members, and asked their positions on the CUP request. Some said Marshall lost an opportunity to bring a new business to town.

If the CUP request had gone before the city council, council members would have had a chance to discuss issues related to the permit and the business in more detail, Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said. “Unfortunately, the decision could not be made,” he said, because there was no longer any request for the council to act on.

Byrnes said the council would have been limited to planning and zoning questions in deciding on the CUP. The Marshall city attorney had advised it would be possible and legal to issue a CUP for Chasing Our Tails, Byrnes said. Based on that advice and the conditions in the permit, Byrnes said he would have supported following the Marshall Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the CUP.

Ward 1 council member John DeCramer said he would have supported the proposal. The proposed use for the County Fair building, as a location to make and package smoked and dehydrated pet treats, wasn’t much different from a butcher shop or a butcher block, he said.

DeCramer said he understood residents’ concerns about the business, like possible odors. The conditions on the CUP could have provided an extra layer of protection for residents.

“We missed out on an opportunity. We could’ve had some employment there,” DeCramer said of County Fair staying empty.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Ward 1 council member Glenn Bayerkohler voiced the strongest negative reactions to the CUP request. On Friday, Bayerkohler said he still thought Chasing Our Tails was a manufacturing business, and not a permitted use for a building in a general business district.

Bayerkohler said it was also important to remember that residents opposed to the CUP weren’t against a new business coming to Marshall.

“They just wanted it in the proper location,” Bayerkohler said. Economic development needed to be done in an orderly, fair and legal manner, he said.

Ward 3 council member James Lozinski said he was in support of the proposal.

“All the research I did on this business, it was a good business,” Lozinski said. He said he contacted neighboring businesses of Chasing Our Tails’ facility in New Hampshire, and they had no complaints.

Lozinski said he had also heard from members of the business community in Marshall who were supportive of Chasing Our Tails coming to Marshall.

Ward 3 council member Craig Schafer said he also would have supported the CUP.

“I really think that it would be something positive for Marshall,” Schafer said of Chasing Our Tails. The company would have added to the diversity of local businesses, he said. And the city was in the position to set conditions to help protect neighboring residents.

At the same time, he said, “I understand residents’ concerns.” The people he talked to in opposition to the permit weren’t opposed to business, Schafer said – just the proposed location.

Marshall needed to figure out how to serve residents’ interests while still being encouraging to businesses, he said.

In council Ward 2, where County Fair property and surrounding residents are located, council member Steven Meister said his position on the CUP request was more complicated. Meister said he was personally in favor of the proposal, but he wouldn’t necessarily have voted that way.

“It becomes a question of, what is (the council’s) role?” Meister said.

If the council’s role in acting on the CUP was supposed to be judicial — to interpret the law — Meister said he would have supported it. In the past, a Schwan’s plant set a precedent of allowing manufacturing on the County Fair property, he said. But if the council was taking a legislative role, Meister said, he would have voted against the CUP, because the response he had gotten from constituents was mainly negative.

“Their questions are warranted,” Meister said.

“I think we lost out on an opportunity,” with Chasing Our Tails, said Ward 2 council member Russ Labat. Opportunities for new businesses and employers coming to Marshall don’t happen that often, he said.

Labat declined to talk about the CUP issue and Tuesday’s meeting in more detail on Friday. With the possibility of litigation over the council’s decision, council members had been advised not to discuss it by the city attorney. Labat said he didn’t know if anything had changed on that front.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Labat said balancing constituents’ needs with an opportunity to encourage new business by granting the permit was a decision he struggled with.

“I’m not happy that we don’t have to make a decision, but it’s unfortunate,” Labat said of the situation Tuesday.

Prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, a concerned citizens’ group opposed to the CUP contacted an attorney with the Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A. law firm, of Apple Valley. A letter from the attorney said the group would pursue legal remedies if the city approved the permit.

The firm’s website lists areas of practice including municipal law.

Marshall City Attorney Dennis Simpson said Friday he had not received confirmation of whether the citizens’ group would be taking any legal action.

Although the CUP ended up not going before the council for a vote, Simpson said he believed the city followed proper process with the permit request.

Some council members said they were concerned about how the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting might affect Marshall in the future. Byrnes said there could be problems with whether Marshall is seen as a business-friendly community. The city needed to take a look at how to effectively encourage business, he said.

Members of the Marshall area business community are also speaking out about the response to the CUP request, and Chasing Our Tails’ decision not to come to Marshall. In a letter to the Marshall Independent, Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Gruhot said the events of Tuesday’s council meeting were “gravely concerning when it comes to recruiting business to the city of Marshall.”

“Do we want to be known as hard to work with? Anti-business?” Gruhot’s letter said. He said Marshall needed to adapt to changes in the retail and business landscape, and be welcoming to new businesses and industries.

An e-mail survey went out to Chamber members on Friday, asking whether they would have supported Chasing Our Tails coming to Marshall, and why or why not.

This week, Chasing Our Tails owner Steve Trachtenberg said he declined to comment beyond his statement that was presented to the city council on Tuesday, as part of a letter formally withdrawing the permit request.

In that letter, Trachtenberg was quoted as saying, “I want to be where I am welcomed, and wanted. I want to locate my company in a community where my personal and corporate values of growth and community contributions are appreciated, and that are aligned with the citizens and the city’s values.”