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Board of Adjustment hears homeowner tales of woe

Disclosure and due diligence are themes that keep cropping up at Board of Adjustment meetings.

Every month a parade of homeowners comes in to the Hubbard County governmental body that controls variance requests. All have a similar story: They bought property on a small lake lot years ago and want to build their dream home on it now. They were unaware of zoning changes that would make their dream impossible. The realtor or property owner they bought from didn't disclose that there could be problems in the future to expanding, renovating or replacing the structure. They're looking to assign blame.

"I don't know what to say," said Park Rapids realtor Carol Norman. "You advertise a place as is."

Norman, who works for RE/MAX First Choice, said it's impossible to predict how many times zoning laws will change in the future, so she gives everyone the same advice: "Before you do anything, check with zoning." And be prepared to upgrade your septic system regardless of the nature of the renovations, especially if you're adding on.

"Zoning laws are always changing on us," she said. "Check with zoning before you make an offer."

At Monday's monthly meeting, homeowners Daryl and Beverlee Moenke brought a version of that story before the board - on their third trip seeking a third variance.

By Monday, the Cottage Grove residents were asking for an after-the-fact variance on a cabin under construction in an older Planned Unit Development in Beachwood Estates on Island Lake North.

They'd originally sought a variance in 2004 to tear down their aging cabin and replace it. Then they scaled back when the cost was prohibitive at the time, seeking a variance to renovate the existing structure.

Their contractor found the footings were bad and suggested replacing the home, so he tore down the structure and began the rebuilding - without the necessary permit and without the proper variance. Moenkes assumed the contractor had taken care of the permit; the contractor assumed they had. Then things went from bad to worse when the local contractor misread the plans and built the new home six feet too short.

The Moenkes came before the board seeking the variance and permission to expand to the home's footprint as originally planned.

The board was concerned that the slab is too far below the elevation for high water marks since the property flooded in 1993.

Moenkes recently learned that and weren't happy the flooding wasn't disclosed to them at the time of the sale.

"It's something we should have been told at the very least by the realtor or previous owner," Daryl Moenke said.

"You're going to have a big crack" in the floating foundation, board chair Chick Knight warned Moenkes, because sand is filtering up underneath.

Daryl Moenke also admitted some frustration about whether it was a property owner's duty to keep up with the myriad, mind-boggling shoreland and zoning changes.

"It's the applicant's responsibility to know the ordinances," said Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf. "The owner signs the permit to build in accordance with the ordinances."

The board granted Moenkes' variance request because, as board member Lou Schwindt put it, "You'd be able to keep the elevation if you remodeled."

But the board said it will require the Moenkes to sign a waiver of liability in case the land floods again.

"We won't sue you," Daryl Moenke promised. "If anything we'd probably go after the former owner, not the county."

"I'm not an attorney but I've been told 'hold harmless' agreements aren't worth the paper they're printed on," Buitenwerf cautioned.

In another request for a variance, the agent for a development on Potato Lake is trying to create a conservation easement to keep a wetland area from future development.

But Tom Miller can't get anyone to take the property in donation. The county doesn't want it, the DNR is lukewarm about it and it's probably too small for the Minnesota Land Trust to oversee.

"I want to keep that shoreline as pristine as we can," Miller said. He was seeking a variance on the parcel to create a walkway and common area to a dock landing for the lots.

The riparian and non-riparian lots would be subject to the easement because Miller asked for, and received permission, to build one boardwalk through the property for lake access. The easement would prevent the separate owners from building more, he reasoned. And the single common area and dock will prevent despoiling of the lakeshore, obviating the necessity for multiple docks and access areas.

In other business the board:

-Granted a variance to some Lake George property owners who appeared last month. They agreed to remove two older cabins from the lakeshore and build new. Although one corner of David and Marla Jorgensen's new home would encroach on a road right-of-way that runs through the property, the board granted the variance.

"I have no problem encroaching on the right-of-way," Schwindt said. "I think this would be a major improvement taking down those two old cabins."

But board member Jerry Cole suggested the Jorgensens contact the township to get permission to encroach on the right-of-way, which they hadn't done.

"The setback is a county ordinance," said Buitenwerf. He maintained the township's only interest would be in keeping the road free of obstructions.

-Granted a subdivision of lots on Portage Lake for Michael Hartung, who also appeared last month. He was seeking to subdivide a three-lot parcel into two lots. Although it would render the existing home's lot non-conforming, board member Earl Benson said that "even if it's non-conforming the lot it's bigger than all the lots in that plat."

-Granted a Minneapolis man a variance to build a storage room on the back of his Steamboat Lake home. "It's not encroaching further on the lake," Cole said.

-Granted a request for Irwin and Isabell Iverson to build onto their Third Crow Wing home, which began as a basement dwelling. The approval was conditional on the Iverson's proposed deck being within the slab foundation.

-Granted a request by a Sauk Centre man to replace his older trailer on Lake Belle Taine with a park model, even though a new ordinance would mandate moving it back 50 feet from the lake shore, placing it above underground power lines.

Roy Walz, who said he was a member of Sauk Center's Board of Equalization, expressed some confusion about the process he was going through in Hubbard County.

In granting the variance, the board applied the "string test."

Because the 12 trailers in the development are all 39 feet from the lake, it would continue the uniformity of the area to place his park model in line with his neighbors, they reasoned.