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The architect for this Island Lake home proposed an addition that would be built on the left side of the photo. Excavation concerns from the Board of Adjustment necessitated moving the addition to the right. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Aging cabins in need of improvements

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Representatives for two Hubbard County homeowners went before the Board of Adjustment Monday with problems plaguing hundreds of similarly situated lakeshore residents - what to do with an aging cabin, a lot that's too narrow and terrain that thwarts reasonably-priced improvements.

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The cases turned out very differently.

Charles and Vicki Hartz wanted to add a bedroom addition to their Fish Hook Lake property. They bought the property in 1986, unaware it was built more than a decade earlier 78 feet from the water. In other words, it was illegally constructed. It didn't meet setback requirements of 100 feet.

The board, after much discussion, granted the couple an "after-the-fact" variance allowing the structure to stand in place. The couple had already updated the septic system to allow for the addition.

Temporary member Jerry Cole, sitting in for a seasonal board member, said, "It would be more detrimental to remove dirt and move the house back 20 feet than leave it." Since the addition did meet setback requirements, it was approved.

But the couple's contractor voluntarily agreed to remove a shed that is within the shore impact zone, sitting only 17 feet from the water. Because the shed wasn't part of the variance request, Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf cautioned the board it could not condition removal of the shed on the granting of the variance. They are two separate buildings, he pointed out. Only the home and its addition were part of the variance application before the board.

When the Hartz's contractor voluntarily agreed to remove the shed before getting a permit for the addition, the board approved the variance, with "the incorporated" act included in the variance request.

The contractor also indicated the addition would drain moisture from the roof onto the back of the lot, creating no new drainage channels leading into the lake. That was the concern of the lake association.

But a second request, on Island Lake, encountered more difficulties and was eventually tabled until the architect could redraw the plans. The homeowners, John and Angly Ulschmid, were also seeking to build a bedroom addition on their 6-acre lot.

But because the lot is not the required width and nestled into a bluff, the request presented conceptual problems.

Architect Steven Holt presented what seemed a logical solution, locating the bedroom addition near the wooded north end of the lot, away from the neighbors, John and Joyce LaFrance.

One corner of the home is in the shore impact zone, sitting 47 feet from the water's edge. The rest of the cabin is 50 feet or more from the high water mark. That necessitated the Ulschmids getting a variance instead of going through a less stringent permit process.

The Ulschmids also bought the property unaware of the nonconforming nature of the front corner of the structure. Holt said they would remove the front porch to get the home further away from the water, as part of the construction on the addition and an overall cosmetic upgrade that included a new roof.

Board members asked him if it wouldn't be wiser to simply tear down the small cabin and relocate it on the bluff.

I'd like to see it on top of the hill," said temporary board member Jerry Novak. "They'd have a better view of the lake."

"Logistically it'd be very difficult," Holt said. "You'd be asking these homeowners to lay out a pile of cash to do it." He estimated the cost of relocating the cabin further up the hill at $500,000. And it would place the home in the septic system's drain field, he pointed out.

"It's almost dug into the bluff as is," Cole said. "How much cubic feet we'd disturb to do it" might weigh against that option, he rationalized.

But because major excavation might be required to dig a basement under the new addition on the narrowest corner of the lake, board members asked Holt to move the proposed addition to the south side of the lot, near the LaFrance property and potentially blocking their view of the lake.

"It (the excavation) would be a lot of impact on that (north) shore," said temporary member Tom Krueger, sitting in for board chair Lou Schwindt. He also advocated moving the addition.

Both Holt and the LaFrances seemed a bit frustrated by the turn of events, but ultimately agreed. "We had to get a variance to build on our lot, too, but we're much farther back from the lake," they said.

Holt will redraw the plans and return to next month's board meeting.

"Asking them to move the house back would be a pretty big hardship," Holt said.

When seasonal residents who are on the Board of Adjustment leave for the winter, designated members of the Planning Commission sit in for them.

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