Guest commentary: Shoreland ordinances should be important to all residents
The lead article on the front page of the Aug. 18 edition of the Enterprise dealt with the most recent meeting of the Hubbard County Board of Adjustment (BOA).
Such meetings are generally unexciting, with few people in attendance. However, there was standing room only available for attendees at the Aug. 16 meeting, many of whom came to voice opposition to the sole item of Board business, namely consideration of the petition by the Dan and Mary Jeanne Schneeman family for nine variances that would enable the family to convert Lower Bottle/Lake Emma resort property that the family has owned and extensively used for 40 years into a Planned United Development (PUD). Amongst the parties speaking in opposition to granting of the variances were Dan Kittilson, Hubbard County COLA President, and Chuck Diessner, Potato Lake resident and COLA attorney. Mr. Diessner used his time to highlight points made in a letter earlier sent to the ESO office and the BOA. A number of other individuals, some neighbors of the Schneemans, spoke in support of their variance requests.
I am a member of the COLA organization and I support the position which the organization has taken on this matter. I consider the fundamental correctness of that position to be unassailable and, since the Shoreland Regulations, the Schneeman Cabin LLC petition, and the Hubbard County COLA letter are all public documents, anyone wishing to make an informed and independent judgement on the matter can access these sources to see what the regulations are, what the Schneeman petition seeks, and why COLA, citing chapter and verse, asserts the requests are improper and, if granted, illegal. Thus, rather than argue here for a conclusion that seriously interested persons would, with a little effort, reach on their own, I would like to address a number of the arguments put forth in support of, not only the Schneeman requests, but of many of the other variance requests that make their way to the BOA. These arguments are often understandable, occasionally laudable, but invariably irrelevant in light of prevailing legalities and mostly put forth by those who have not taken the time to read the shoreland regulations, also understandable since the 80 pages or so do not propel the reader forward in the manner of a Harry Potter adventure.
Schneeman Cabin LLC supporters assert that the Schneemans are responsible stewards of the land and water, that the family in 2009 sold 33 acres of its original 46 acre purchase to The Trust for Public Land and donated 10 percent of the proceeds back to the Trust, and that the proposed new property configuration would arguably be less environmentally damaging than the existing one; all available evidence supports these assertions but do not address the question of compliance with existing ordinances. The family and its supporters point to an existing septic system, a DNR easement, and power lines as obstacles to bringing their proposal into conformance with the rules. With the possible exception of power lines, these obstacles can be relocated and, while such relocation will undoubtedly entail inconvenience and expense beyond the current petitioner proposal, they do not meet the standard of "undue hardship" as defined by the shoreland rules, a prerequisite for the granting of a variance.
The BOA meeting concluded with a motion to table the variance requests for 30 days, an appropriate action providing the petitioner time to reshape the proposal into one compliant with existing shoreland rules. Such a proposal can be expected to generate no opposition from any quarter including COLA, an organization that some wrongly consider to be reflexively anti-development. And, personally speaking as a parent, grandparent, and lakeshore property owner, I am totally sympathetic and supportive of the desire to create a more hospitable setting for family gatherings.
Should any of this matter to the larger Hubbard County public? Well, yes, it most certainly should. The public waters of north central Minnesota are arguably its most precious asset. People vacation here because of them. People retire here because of them. People employed in internet-based professions increasingly relocate here because of them. Many others are raised here and remain here because of them. Local economies are in substantial measure supported by them. And the shoreland regulations, while imperfect like every human creation, are intended to protect them.
Can anyone doubt that they require protection? While I am a transplant of fairly recent vintage, I have had discussions with life long residents who bewail the deterioration of local public waters that has occurred in their lifetimes. Some of those acquaintances have abandoned the local lakes where they fished in their youth for regular trips to lake locales further north. The Minnesota PCA has an alarmingly large and growing list of Minnesota lakes that have become impaired. And while the current recession is undoubtedly limiting population growth, such growth in excess of overall state population growth can be expected to resume, bringing with it increased pressure on our lakes and rivers.
Some would say that persons have the right to do as they please with their own property and that regulations are an unwelcome infringement on that right. Such a view conveniently and selfishly ignores the social compact, flouting the obligation to balance the rights of the individual and the needs of the community. It contributes to the tragedy of the commons, the phenomenon by which many have rights to a shared resource but no one assumes the obligations to care for it. It is labeled 'tragedy' because over time the cumulative impact of all the bad decisions, each by itself considered too small to do any measurable damage, suddenly irrupts to cause irreparable damage, even death of the resource. I do not relish the thought of our lakes becoming dead zones. I hope and trust no one else does either.
Mutsch is a permanent, year around resident of the 5th Crow Wing Lake. He, together with the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) and the Middle Crow Wing Lake association, have brought suit against the county, challenging what the three plaintiffs consider the illegal granting of variances earlier this year for a 5th Crow Wing Lake Planned United Development Conversion.