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Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenmwerf brings two egg timers with him to meetings. He keeps public discussion limited to three minutes as “officially”measured by the egg timers. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BOA worries about future impact of its lake decisions

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By Sarah Smith

Hubbard County’s Board of Adjustment worried Monday about the future ramifications of the decisions they rendered that day.

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But board members also wondered about their own future. The county is talking merging that group with the planning commission by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the board seemed to go out of its way to carefully examine all aspects of variance requests before approval.

A request by Steven and Patricia Haataja to add a front deck to their nonconforming Big Stony Lake home was approved. The deck would be located within the 30-foot ordinary high water mark.

It set off a robust discussion that continued throughout the meeting, one that looked at future consequences of each decision.

The Haatajas want to remove an existing concrete platform and replace it with a 10-by-20 deck.

The Environmental Services Department recommended approval of the plan, contingent on revegetating the area below the proposed deck to soak up runoff.

Board member Ken Grob objected.

“It exceeds the 25 percent impervious surface” requirement of the county’s shoreland management ordinance, he pointed out.

“The deck won’t alleviate runoff. It will cascade off from six feet out onto the lawn. Creating a better situation of runoff is not a valid situation.”

Grob said the house already has a deck and two patios, which enhances the runoff into the lake.

Patricia Haataja said there would be gaps between deck boards so water would run through the decking. “We’re making it considerably smaller than the cement pad,” she noted to the board. “I thought we were very conservative on 10 feet.”

She said the couple was open to suggestions on how to environmentally contain runoff underneath the deck.

She pointed out that the couple was removing railroad tied socked in creosote that shore up the property now.

“The savings in runoff to the lake is very small,” Grob continued to object.

Putting in a deck just to have a view of the lake “is very inconsistent with the things we’ve done in the past,” Grob said.

But board member Tim Johnson said “this is a reasonable use” of the property.

Grob argued that even using a fabric liner underneath covered with wood chips would not absorb sufficient water.

“It’s 30 feet from the lake,” he objected.

“If we don’t grant the variance the concrete will stay and the runoff from the creosote is really bad,” board member Char Christensen said.

The board approved the request 4-1 with Grob objecting.

A request by Northwoods Bank to create two lots on Eleventh Crow Wing Lake was similarly scrutinized, especially since the smaller lot included an existing duplex.

Again, the Environmental Services Offices urged approval of the three-part request.

The main request was to reduce building unit density by essentially de-commissioning the duplex on the property. Kevin Lindow, agent for the bank, also offered to create a vegetative buffer along the shore to mitigate runoff from the two lots.

“A vegetative buffer along 90 percent of the shoreline is being installed to mitigate the lots not meeting all size requirements,” the ESO staff recommendations indicated, in urging approval of the request.

But once again Grob pointed out the future consequences. Unhooking the plumbing would leave the duplex still able to act as a guest house, he said. The buyers, because the cabin is tiny, would likely use the duplex for auxiliary housing, an issue the county has been fighting with lake residents for years over.

Illegal bedrooms have been a touchy subject as people seek to expand tiny cabins to accommodate growing families, mostly without the proper permits for such expansion.

Grob wanted to see the duplex gutted to ensure the new owners wouldn’t be tempted to “add on” to their livable space.

“You’re approving a guest house for all intents and purposes,” Grob pobjected.

Lindow said it would be too costly for the bank to rip out the interior, just to prevent people from sleeping there. That would also interfere with the wiring, he said.

“I could take a sleeping bag into the garage and I’ve got sleeping space,” Lindow protested.

“We can’t micromanage everybody’s lives,” board chair Lou Schwindt said.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said if the variance specifies no living quarters in the duplex, his office has some enforcement authority if the duplex is used for sleeping, not storage.

A vote to approve the request without making the bank remove the duplex interior was passed 3-2 after a similar motion failed that would have required the bank to gut the building before selling.

In other business, the board:

n Granted a request by Kathy Grell to create a pasture out of a Lake Peysenske lot that lacked acreage and setback.

Although the Shoreland Management Ordinance permits such a use, the lot would have to be 5 acres and 500 feet beyond the ordinary high water mark. Her parcel was 3.5 acres, so the board granted her permission to graze two horses on the lot for summer months only.

n Granted a request by Daryl and Denise Seaman to add a loft roof above their cabin at Vacationaire Estates on Island Lake. The cabin is part of a planned development that is not a formal PUD, but similar and grandfathered in.

Grob had problems with this request, too.

If it had gone through a normal Planned Unit Development process, the owners would not have been able to add on to the cabin because it’s in the shore impact zone, Grob said.

It leads to “the possibility we’ll see several more,” Grob maintained. “We allow high densities on those conversions but we constrain expansion.”

There are numerous other cabins in the same development and Grob worried the board was setting a trend that might be followed by other homeowners in the association.

Johnson conditioned approval on the owners installing rain gutters to divert water away from the lake and a putting in a vegetative buffer to soak up moisture.

Grob moved to deny the request but got no second. A motion to approve the request passed 4-1 with Grob dissenting. Board members, after the meeting ended, briefly gave their opinions and asked questions about the possible merger.

Most took a wait-and-see position.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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