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Board of Adjustment grapples with age, disability reasons for variances

As Hubbard County's population ages, how much should the geriatric set be accommodated to remain in their lakeshore residences?

And who makes that determination?

That was the weighty issue confronting the Board of Adjustment as two Gilmore Lake homeowners applied for an after-the-fact variance for a lakeshore shed they built last year well within the shore impact zone.

They built it because homeowner Andrew Schneider suffered a back injury and is undergoing rehabilitation.

He said he could no longer carry his 5-horse Johnson motor up and down the hill, so he needs a shed to store it in near the water's edge.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf brought the issue before the board when he questioned the medical documentation Schneider's doctor submitted to qualify for a state exemption that would enable Schneiders to locate the shed lakeside.

The permitting system, the board agreed, was similar to getting a handicapped parking sticker for your car. Schneiders had not applied for a permit, however. The shed was built 18 feet from the lakeshore. By law it can be no closer than 10 feet from the lake and no larger than 48 square feet.

But what sort of proof is necessary to qualify a resident to break the rules, board members debated? If that homeowner is able to golf and garden but not able to lift a motor, does that qualify if the doctor says the person is disabled?

The extent of a person's disability has long bedeviled social service and worker's compensation agencies, state and federal. Now it may bedevil environmental agencies.

Three neighbors wrote to complain.

"It puts us in a compromising position," wrote Charles and Jan Kellner. "It could set a precedent."

Neighbor Allan Selseth maintained the lake is overbuilt as it is.

"Is there some magic age when everyone hurts" so they can build on the lakeshore, he asked.

Neighbor Joan Smith said having storage units in the restricted areas seems environmentally counterproductive; the aging process is normal. "Don't endanger the beauty and well-being of the lake," she implored.

If the water rises to the high water level it could be 6 to 8 inches from the lake," he warned. "It's a bad deal all the way around."

Andrew Schneider said he tried moving his motor down in a wheelbarrow and injured himself falling when he hit a dip and the wheelbarrow and motor overturned.

"A bad back is a practical difficulty," he said, citing the reasons in the statute for granting variances.

A medical problem requires no variance so what's it doing before us?" questioned board member Charles Knight. "We're not qualified to go for or against a doctor."

"The letter was not clear enough to substantiate a medical difficulty," Buitenwerf said, asking the board to make the final decision.

"So we're going to make a medical decision here?' asked member Earl Benson.

Buitenwerf said a medical waiver of the statute requires proof of a permanent disability.

"The letter in my opinion didn't meet the criteria of the ordinance," Buitenwerf said. "It's up to you as a board to determine" if it is substantial verification of a disability.

The board debated whether to grant the variance for a year, then have Schneiders reapply for a new variance, at which time his disability would be re-evaluated.

"What is sufficient evidence," Benson asked, noting the doctor's note. "Isn't this sufficient?"

Board members then questioned whether items such as loon nesting platforms and icehouses should be left on the lakeshore.

"This thing is being blown out of proportion," Carol Schneider suggested.

For the price of a variance, $275, Knight reasoned the couple could hire someone for $20 to carry the motor down and get it started many times over.

He led the 3-2 vote to deny the variance request. The shed must be moved.

"My opinion is I'm not a doctor," Knight said. "It's not our call."

In other action, the board:

n Approved an after-the-fact request by Curtis and Cheryl Ford to secure a deck platform closer than the 100-foot setback.

The couple explained the platform was there when they leased and eventually bought their Garfield Lake property. The topography of the lot does not allow them to watch their grandchildren in the lake, so Curtis Ford said he secured the platform for safety reasons so family members could sit on it and view the lake.

"Even standing on the deck of the house you can't see the shoreline," Benson said. "This is necessary for the use of the property."

n Denied an after the fact request from Stephen Foster to allow a platform holding a hot tub to remain 36 feet from Portage Lake's shoreline. Foster said the platform has been there many years and he assumed it had been included in a 1994 variance application for erosion control and a retaining wall at the shoreline.

"The hot tub is in the restricted area," Knight said. The Fosters have 90 days to relocate it back near the cabin.

n Approved a variance request by Harlan and LouAnn Jopp to put an addition on their Big Stony cabin that is already a nonconforming structure.

The 14-by-16 foot addition, a three season porch, is outside the shore impact zone and further away from the lake than the existing cabin, board members noted in granting approval.

n Denied a request by the daughter of a deceased Belle Taine resident to subdivide his lakeshore property into two lots because the property would then lack the required "Residential Lot Suitable Area for building.

Although the lots would hook up to Nevis sewer and water and therefore require only 15,000 square feet rather than the 20,000 required for a septic system, the finished size of one lot would be half the required footage.

Jennifer Jahr, trustee for the Theodore J. Schutz Revocable Trust, said she was told the lot might be more salable if it was subdivided.

"The realtor felt the highest and best use would be to split it," she told the board. The lot has a small home and huge yard as it and might appeal to only a narrow market, she added.

"Belle Taine has some big houses on it," board president Lou Schwindt said. "Maybe you should put it on the market in one piece and see what happens. It may surprise you."

Schwindt suggested the lot size might attract a buyer that would build a new home.

Neighbors had written in objection to subdividing the lot, saying the lake is reaching overuse and overdevelopment.

n Approved a variance for JoAnn Zerwekh to build a storage shed on a nonconforming sized lot on Shallow Lake. In granting the request the board noted the shed would be across the road away from the lake.

n Approved a request by John and Linda Thiewes to exchange some property with their neighbors that would make one tract more nonconforming in its width at the high water mark.

"I didn't see anything on this that gives me any agony," board member Jerry Cole said.

"The road was the culprit," Knight said. "It led to the exchange in property."

The exchange would give the Thieweses 41 more feet of shoreline.

n Approved a variance request by David and Gloria Pautz to add a 50 percent addition to their Stocking Lake cabin that would exceed the 4-foot maximum height increased allowed.

The topography of the lot necessitates the upward addition, architect Stephen Holt told the board.

"Up is the only alternative and that's what they've chosen to do," Schwindt said.

"You'll need a good eaves trough system to drain away from the lake," Cole suggested.

n Approved a variance with a stipulation for Michael Simon to allow two after the fact deck additions to his Portage Lake home.

Simon said he thought the additions were included in a variance request he filed three years ago.

The additions were necessary for his wife to gain wheelchair access to the home, he said.

Board members did ask him to take off a stairway to eliminate an encroaching problem toward the lake.

"Steps need to meet the setback," Buitenwerf said.

n Approved a variance request by Robert Murphy and Richard Burquist to place a garage at less than the 50-foot road setback on their Lake Belle Taine property.

County Road 80 in Henrietta Township runs near the properties.

"I don't think there's a garage on County Road 80 that has a 50-foot setback," Benson said. Neighbors wrote supporting the proposal.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364