New ownership, request for CUP for defunct resort, worries COLA members
Another showdown could be brewing between lake activists and Hubbard County, this time over a proposed resort deal on Upper Bottle Lake that could potentially double the small body of water's population density.
Fargo real estate developer Mike Allmendinger sought a Conditional Use Permit last week for the defunct Wambolt's Resort off Intrepid Road. Because the resort has not been in business for nearly a decade, a CUP was necessary for reinstating its resort taxation status.
Lake residents say the conversion only involves seven cabins and that a "Chicken Little" atmosphere is permeating the conversion. No large-scale development has been planned, the lake association maintains.
Resorts enjoy a break in tax status, similar to residential housing, said Lyle Robinson, Hubbard County commissioner. That body will hear the case today.
"It's a tax shelter," Robinson said of the resort's tax status.
"Most people have a resort so they can hold property until the value goes up.
"Down the road when it (the economy) recovers then you look at your options. Right now keeping a big piece of property in one big piece tax-wise is beneficial because each lot is called a building site and then that really raises your taxes. If I had a big piece of property I'd make a resort out of it for awhile," Robinson agreed.
Members of Hubbard County's Coalition of Lake Associations have expressed concern since the CUP sailed through the county's Planning Commission last week and heads to the county board today for final approval.
The application by Blazing Star LLC to operate a resort was granted with conditions. But the controversy started before the meeting.
"We literally did not know anything about this until 24 hours ahead of time because it wasn't posted on the Internet so we didn't know there was a posting until the absolute last minute," said COLA member Chuck Diessner, speaking of the lack of public notice.
Even Robinson agreed.
"I was kind of surprised it came before the Planning Commission last week," he said.
The county's website did not have the meeting agenda on it last week until just shortly before the meeting, Diessner alleges.
The county website's minutes for Planning Commission meetings have not been updated since September 2011.
According to Diessner, "the applicants asked for two docks and three boats at each dock, for six boat slips. Cal Johannsen said, 'Well wait a minute, you're entitled to a lot more than that. Why don't we give you the maximum?' So the Planning Commission recommended the approval of the CUP with 28 boat slips.
"And it passed," he said. I went to Eric (Buitenwerf, Environmental Services Officer) afterward and said, 'Eric, How is this gonna work? You can't have any more buildings in Tier 1; they can only have the existing 15 cabins. We have a restriction in the ordinance that you can have one slip for each dwelling unit and one common dock and you can't allocate boat slips outside of Tier 1. So who the hell is going to use the extra 13 slips?' And his comment was, 'I don't know.'"
Upper Bottle Lake has just over 100 cabins.
The resort, with 27 acres and another adjoining parcel of 40 acres, conceivably could hold 100 more dwellings, Diessner said he was told. The 40-acre parcel has no lake frontage, according to county records.
The taxable market value of the larger parcel has declined from $342,600 in 2009 to $261,700 for this year. For the 27-acre parcel, the taxable market value was $1,267,300 in 2009 and is $1,051,400 this year.
The resort currently has 15 units in the first tier of development. And COLA members are worried many more tiers could be proposed. That's not what lake residents say they've heard, and they maintain the rumor mill is out of control.
Allmendinger, a landscape architect and general manager of Kilbourne Group of Fargo, did not return a call seeking comment by the time the Enterprise went to press Tuesday.
The Kilbourne Group, which has primarily developed downtown Fargo real estate, is headed by Doug Burgum, a Fargo man who started Great Plains Software and sold it to Microsoft Corporation in 2001 for $1.1 billion, his website says.
According to Diessner, the county consulted legal counsel in the matter after COLA members began pushing for answers.
Buitenwerf would not discuss the proposal with the Enterprise and suggested reviewing the pubic information on file.
It is the poor economy and volatile commercial real estate market that fuels rumors like this, one woman said, declining to allow her name to be used for this story.
But COLA members question why a seven-unit resort would need 28 dock slips.