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Controversial lake variance is approved

Once again protests greeted Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Applause broke out in the county boardroom after the Hubbard County Board of Adjustment granted a controversial variance for a former resort trying to convert to a residential planned unit development.

The request by the Dan Schneeman family has been pending for months as it begins the conversion process to renovate an old resort to family owned, larger cabins on Lower Bottle Lake. The resort has been in family hands for 40 years.

The proposal drew protests in August, as it did Monday, along with opposition from the Coalition of Lake Associations.

COLA had objected, contending the family had not proved the requisite "practical difficulties" for not moving the new cabins further out of the sensitive shore impact zone.

Once again, the variance board debated the pros and cons of the plan, even though most neighbors and the Emma/Bottle/Stocking lakes association approved.

"We've done what the board has asked us to do to the best of our ability," family spokesperson Julie Gough said. The family had gone to "a great deal of expense" to alter the plans it presented two months ago.

"You gentlemen are supposed to be the gatekeepers to protect our lakes," COLA attorney Chuck Diessner said. "We ask that you follow the ordinance in this case and all other cases."

But neighbor Barry Monson said if the board was going to enforce a bright line adherence to the laws "you guys might as well go home."

He said the role of the variance board is to make those judgment calls in the face of "voices of very possible fringe opposition."

The 4-1 vote, with Jerry Cole in opposition, allows family members to rebuild six cabins now located in the shore impact zone. The variance is for the cabin setback only.

The family is going through a conditional use permit process for the PUD conversion.

The cabins will be moved back, but will remain within the 100-foot ordinary high water mark.

Gough said recently confirmed wetlands limited the cabins' movement on the property considering location of power lines, the septic system, location of a road and a DNR easement on the property.

COLA maintained the family could still develop to the north away from the lake and tried to get the board to condition approval on a promise to leave that land undisturbed if the current variance was granted. The board imposed no such condition.

Cole's objection was to the vagueness of the timeline to renovate. Work on one cabin will begin immediately, Gough said, with the others years in the future.

Cole proposed putting a subset clause on the work, that it must be finished within two years.

"It's taken us two years to get this far," Gough objected.

Board chair Lou Schwindt proposed a six- year moratorium, one year for each cabin.

Gough said she couldn't speak for her siblings, but doubted each cabin owner had the economic flexibility to complete the repairs by then.

Finally, Schwindt and Gough decided on a 10-year sunset clause to finish the work.

But in passing the motion, the board neglected to insert that provision in the language, so the family is free to accomplish the renovations at its own pace.

The board members approved another controversial variance, on Palmer Lake.

n It granted a request by Richard and Sandra Nichols to build a new home 100 feet from the lakeshore, replacing an aging A-frame 50 feet from the lake. But because Palmer Lake is a categorized as a natural environment lake, setback requirements are 150 feet.

Other lake residents wrote in against the location, maintaining they had to adhere to the 150-foot setback.

But board members pointed out neighbors on each side of the Nichols' proposed location were located only 100 feet from the lakeshore and it would preserve the structural harmony to have all three residences aligned.

That variance was approved 3-2, with Schwindt and Earl Benson dissenting.

In other action, the board:

n Granted an after-the-fact variance to John and Susan Talbot, who built his Little Mantrap Lake garage too close to the road right-of-way and less than 10 feet away from the rear lot line.

There were conflicting opinions as to whether the road was public or private. The township apparently doesn't maintain it.

"It looks like a private drive to me," Cole maintained. "I can see where the confusion arose."

n Granted a variance to Carsten and Barbara Burros that allowed them to build a garage that encroached on the 10-foot side lot line setback. Carsten Burros said he didn't want to place his garage floor directly above his septic system in case the line needed future repairs.

A 1997 variance granted the couple the right to build a garage that was 28-by-32 feet. But they wanted a slightly larger structure, 28-by-36, Carsten Burros said.

COLA member Ed Mutsch questioned where the hardship was to necessitate the variance and whether the larger structure's runoff would place an extra burden on the sewage system.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said it wouldn't.

n Approved a variance request for Doug and Julie Goodman to replace their Grace Lake home with a new structure at less than the 100-foot ordinary high water mark. Approval was conditioned on the couple agreeing to move the new structure an additional 10 feet back, placing it 75 feet from the shore.

And the board did place a two-year sunset clause on completion of the work. The home's plumbing is currently located in the cabin's ceiling.

n Granted a request by Todd and Lorae Benson to place an addition on the rear of their Grace Lake home. The board additionally granted them an after-the-fact OK to leave a newly refurbished concrete deck in place after neighbors said the platform "had been there forever."

The Bensons' builder said he had consulted former environmental specialist Laird Hensel about the platform and "we felt it fell into the maintenance and repair category," said builder Ken Berge. In that case, a variance wasn't necessary, Berge said he was led to believe.

COLA president Dan Kittelson objected, maintaining Buitenwerf's internal recommendation was to "encourage the greatest setback possible" of the deck.

COLA members questioned why the office's recommendations are not solicited by the board or offered into the public record because they only come to light infrequently and the board doesn't follow them.

n Granted an after-the-fact variance for Trevor Millerbernd to keep his garage located within the 10-foot side lot setback, but denied a request to place a bathroom in that garage.

Diessner, on behalf of COLA, asked he board not to vote contrary to an ordinance prohibiting the location of bathrooms in garages.

As the ordinance stands, the homeowner could put a composting toilet in the garage, but not a toilet that hooks into the home's septic system.,

"This would bring a lot of folks into play as far as installing a toilet in a garage or outbuilding," Cole said in voting against the request.

n Granted a request by Kristine Sorenson to replace rotting railroad timbers near the shoreline with a landscaped improvement on her Long Lake property.

The Long Lake Association approved of the plan, calling it a "dramatic improvement" over what was in place now.

After the meeting, Diessner said he doesn't know if COLA will sue the board again over the Schneeman PUD. The organization is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over the board's handling of a similar proposal on Fifth Crow Wing Lake. COLA has monitored the board closely since filing suit last summer.

"This was very disappointing and the Palmer Lake variance is indefensible," Diessner said. The board "listens to serious issues, then totally ignores it" in deliberations, he said.

He said COLA is trying to get the board back to granting only variances that are legally justified under the ordinance.

"Today it fell off the tracks," he said.

Sarah Smith

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

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