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Variance board denies four requests; COLA wants more

The beleaguered Hubbard County Board of Adjustment denied four variances that would have allowed encroachment on three of the county's most populated lakes, but COLA members are nevertheless pressuring the group to deny more.

The board is being sued by the Coalition of Lake Associations for a variance it granted last winter in a resort-turned residential planned unit development on Fifth Crow Wing Lake.

But COLA members and their attorney, who have monitored board meetings since the lawsuit was filed this summer, are pressuring the board to get stricter on homeowners who want to make lakeshore improvements, especially those in the shore impact zone.

The first denial came for a Potato Lake homeowner who wants to rebuild a family home that is part of a trust, now in its third and fourth generations.

Reg Eklund and developer Nels Peterson gave impassioned reasons why building in the shore impact zone was necessary - the family is trying to preserve its history on the spot. They wanted a variance to place the new larger structure on the same footprint.

But Eklund said many family members are aging and making the home comfortable and handicapped accessible requires more space.

The Potato Lake Association went on record opposing the request, which the board then denied 5-0.

Peterson said the request would not detract from the "harmony and well-being of the lake," or damage the waters in any way.

Board members said the lot was large enough to move the new home 100 feet away from the lakeshore. The home sits 40 feet away from the water presently.

"We've got the opportunity to improve conditions on the lake, bring everything into compliance with the ordinance," said board member Jerry Cole in urging a denial.

"I don't believe the intent of the ordinance is to disrupt people's heritage," Peterson objected, adding the hardship his clients were trying to prove was "robbing the family heritage from the property."

The existing home "has been there forever," he said.

Board members also denied a request from the Stuart E. Barstad Trust to replace a nonconforming home in the lake impact zone with a new home that would entail substantial grading and filling on Kabekona Lake.

Contractor Joe Mastley said the family didn't want to move the home back and remove several trees to clear a site.

"Trees are not considered to be a problem," said board member Charles Knight, referring to hardships.

Board members said there would be too much earth removal in the first 100 feet of lakeshore to grant the request. Mastley said the earth removal was necessary to restore the old site.

In denying the variance, board members pointed out the lot was 900 feet deep. "I don't see enough hardship or difficulty," said board chair Lou Schwindt.

The board also denied a request to allow an unimproved lot on a peninsula on Lake Belle Taine to be separated from an adjacent lot so it could be developed.

The lot didn't meet any size setback or drain field requirements.

The owners, Bruce Budinger and Martyn Moen, were seeking the variance with the hope of selling the developed lot and dissolving a longstanding partnership between the families.

Board members, citing the decade-old crisis caused when the lake level rose dramatically and flooded many property owners, expressed fear that if the lake ever rose again, the lot would be under water.

Budinger complained that when the Department of Natural Resources re-set the ordinary high water mark, property owners weren't notified they were holding potentially "unbuildable" lots.

But Schwindt said under a 1972 ordinance, the families couldn't have sold off the contiguous nonconforming lot either. Board members, in voting 5-0 to deny the request, said they don't want any high waters to potentially swamp septic systems that could cause lake pollution.

Numerous property owners wrote in opposition to developing the lot due to the density on the lake, the fear of rising waters again since the lake doesn't have an outlet that would drain until the peninsula was under water, and the fact the lot was simply too small to develop.

In other action, the board:

n Granted an Eighth Crow Wing property owner the right to move a new trailer onto his lot. The lot doesn't have enough space to accommodate the new trailer and a guest cabin on the land. Owner David Vinge said he couldn't replace his aging trailer with a new model as narrow as the older home and promised to locate the new home so it doesn't encroach on the neighbors' side lot or closer to the lake.

"With the topography of the lot and the wetlands there's no other place to put it," board member Earl Benson said in voting to grant the variance.

n Approved a request by Tenth Crow Wing property owners to put a deck platform closer to the lake than the ordinary high water mark allowed.

The deck was in the original house plans approved seven years ago but never built. The board granted the variance request as an extension of the original approved plan, but told Paul Seaton he must get an after-the-fact permit for a shed he placed on the property meanwhile.

n Approved an addition to a home owned by Herman and Kathy Metzger on Upper Bottle Lake over the objections of COLA attorney Chuck Diessner.

The Metzgers were seeking to place an addition exceeding the 50 percent allowable square footage to a nonconforming cabin in the shore impact zone. The lot did not meet the 75-foot minimum lot width at the ordinary high water mark and building setback lines.

The Metzgers explained that the 48-foot setback was to the deck, not the actual home, which is 58 feet from the water's edge.

Diessner said the notice of the variance indicated the building itself was in the shore impact zone, the first 50 feet of lakeshore, and "you can't enlarge a building in the shore impact zone."

The board reasoned the home itself wasn't in the SIZ and granted the variance 4-0 with Cole recusing himself since he formerly owned the home.

n Approved two after-the-fact requests by Ennis Arntson and Patrice Hedlund in which the couple placed a larger than allowed deck and beach area on their Fish Hook Lake home.

"We certainly did not have the intent of violating the existing ordinance," Hedlund told the board, explaining they had relied on their contractor's word that the improvements were legal and the necessary permits had been obtained.

"With that beach area we'd create more problems than we'd solve" removing it, Cole noted of the 30-square foot area. The board also noted if the couple removed one board from the deck it would be in compliance since it was only 4 square feet more than the allowed 32 square footage.

"We're correcting an insignificant problem," Cole noted as the board voted 5-0 to grant the variances.

n Approved a variance for Michael and Judy Marino to add on to a nonconforming structure on Grace Lake that didn't meet the 100-foot OHW mark and also includes a guest cabin.

Judy Marino said the couple didn't realize the home was in such poor condition as to require a complete rebuild, they didn't realize a garage would be considered in their overall living footage and her knee problems make it necessary for the couple to complete the renovations as presented to make the new home accessible.

Moving the new structure back would encroach on the guest cabin, which the couple hopes to rent out as "a source of income to pay the taxes," she said.

n Approved a request by Mary Bowman to place an addition on to her small Little Sand Lake cabin that would house a new bedroom. The current bedroom would be used to enlarge the 11-by-13 living room, she told the board.

"This is a very small cabin," Benson said in approving the request. "She needs the enlargement to be able to live there comfortably."

n Approved a request by Shady Shores Homeowners Association to build a retaining wall on an eroding parcel of Lake Belle Taine that would require the removal of earth in the shore impact zone.

Agent Shannon Hendrickson said owners were hoping to repair damage from the high water of 2001. Repairing the damage and rebuilding the hill with native vegetation would reduce the chances for further erosion, he maintained.

"I think it's a hell of a good idea," Cole said. The project would blend with existing rip-rap on an adjoining property and butt up against it.

"It's a necessary improvement," board member Charles Knight said. "A retaining wall is needed."

n Approved a request by the owners of New Frontier Resort, Inc., on Long Lake to replace an aging cabin with a new modular home at less then the 100-foot OHW mark.

Owners Ralph and Sharon Notch said the older cabin doesn't have enough rental potential and that the resort has been asked to host the 2012 Governor's Fishing Opener that the city is bidding on. It would improve the resort for that event, the Notches said.

Once again COLA and Diessner objected, to both the size of the new structure and the encroachment into the OHW mark.

"There's enough room to move that unit back 100 feet," he said. "The new unit is twice the size of the existing building."

Sharon Notch explained moving the home back to the 100-foot mark would restrict access to another cabin. The couple said the septic system would be upgraded to accommodate the additional bedroom the new structure would have.

The board voted 4-1 for the variance allowing the new structure with Cole opposing it.

n Denied two variance requests by John and Sharon Pollard for their Potato Lake home that perturbed board members, who said the couple has made numerous improvements without the necessary permits.

Pollards, who did not attend the meeting, were seeking an after-the-fact variance for an addition to a nonconforming walkway and seeking a variance to screen in a lakeward deck.

"I think it's a shame he's not here to discuss it," Cole said.

During the site visitation board members noticed beach improvements that had also been made without a permit.

Board members said the site improvements could cause erosion problems and the screened in porch would encroach in the 100-foot OHW mark.

"Everybody's gonna want to do it," Cole objected. Both requests were denied.

n Tabled a request by Todd and Lorae Benson to place an addition on their Grace Lake cabin until a violation is corrected.

Bensons replaced a concrete deck that was crumbling on the property under the belief it was a restoration.

But because the cabin was built with a variance, any improvements require a new variance, Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said.

Bensons and their contractor Ken Berge had been dealing with ESO specialist Laird Hensel, who died in a car accident last December.

Hensel didn't leave any notes in the file as to their understanding of what he approved.

Lorae Benson was asked to clear up some matters and come back next month.

Sarah Smith

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

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