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Becker County shoreland resort expansion moratorium lifted

On July 28, the Becker County Board of Commissioners placed a six-month moratorium on the expansion of existing resorts within shoreland districts.

That ban was rescinded last week, with the passage of five amendments to the county zoning ordinance.

The moratorium was originally implemented to give the county time to review its current zoning policies and establish a more uniform method of ordinance enforcement for all resorts within the county.

Though the five amendments approved at Tuesday's meeting were intended to do just that, not everyone was convinced that they would do so.

During the open forum portion of Tuesday's meeting, several people came forward to list their objections to the proposed amendments.

Bill Sherlin, Lake Eunice Township, who is a member of the County Board of Adjustments, said that he feels the language of the amendments is contradictory.

"It's only going to lead to something we deal with at every (Board of Adjustments) meeting ... the perception of arbitrary enforcement," he said.

Sherlin said he felt the changes should not be approved until some "inconsistencies" in the language have been resolved.

Also speaking at the open forum portion of the meeting was Clark Lee, representing the Big Toad Lake Improvement Association.

Lee presented copies of a three-page prepared statement to the commissioners, and began to read from it; however, before he had finished with the first page, Board Chair Harry Salminen interrupted him and asked if he could cut his remarks short.

"We can read," Salminen said when asked by Lee why he wouldn't be allowed to read his statement in its entirety. He noted that the open forum was "taking up too much time" (a public hearing had been scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.).

Lee complied with Salminen's request, but asked that the commissioners read his presentation thoroughly before voting on the proposed amendments, and particularly the section where the BTLIA asked for action on behalf of the board.

Specifically, the BTLIA was asking that the board not lift the moratorium on resort expansion and improvement, and reconvene the resort subcommittee to review the portions of the county zoning ordinance pertaining to the definition of resorts, campgrounds, manufactured home parks and other public rental units.

At the heart of this request was a dispute between the BTLIA and the owners of Bambi's Resort along the shore of Big Toad Lake. A 2007 expansion of the resort included the addition of 33 RV parking spaces. Though it was included under the guise of "resort expansion," Lee wrote in his presentation, the BTLIA feels the RV sites are in fact a seasonal campground, requiring a separate conditional use permit to operate as such.

"Minnesota state law, not Becker County, dictates when a business can be identified as a resort, campground, manufactured home park, hotel or motel, and licensed appropriately," Lee wrote.

After the open forum, during the planning and zoning portion of the meeting, Zoning Administrator Patty Swenson said the county attorney's office had reviewed the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance, and "We are not in violation of any state statute."

In other business, a public hearing was held on the proposed off-sale liquor license requested by Lakes Corner Liquor located in Erie Township.

Richard Curley, owner of Curley's on Cotton Lake, spoke at the hearing. He said he felt that because the proposed store was within three miles of his existing business, it was "going to hurt our business tremendously."

While sympathetic, Commissioner Barry Nelson noted, "We don't regulate competition," and the board can't deny an application based upon the possibility of competition with existing businesses.

"I sympathize with Mr. Curley, but we can't legislate who can compete against another business," added Commissioner John Bellefeuille.

Commissioner Gerry Schram said he questioned whether the county needed a liquor store in such close proximity to the tubing rental businesses in the area.

Sheriff Tim Gordon, who was present for the hearing, said that businesses in the area had to undergo regular compliance checks to make sure they were not selling liquor to intoxicated people. If they were found to be doing so, it was grounds for revoking their license, he added.

Schram voted against the license application, which was approved by a 4-1 vote.