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Little Sand PUD hearing turns into heated shouting match

If the imbroglio at Tuesday's Planning Commission plays out to its final act, stay tuned for COLA versus Hubbard County, version 2.0, coming soon to a courtroom near you.

Coalition of Lake Association members, already embroiled with the county over a Planned Unit Development on 5th Crow Wing Lake, are outraged over the Planning Commission's approval of a similar common interest community on Little Sand Lake and about the way they were treated at the public hearing,

The Enterprise did not attend the meeting. It ordered and transcribed the audiotape of the proceedings for this story.

At issue is the interpretation, and the county's discretion, to allow residential PUDs to exceed maximum allowable density that would be imposed on new construction, accompanied by as many docks as units in the first tier of development.

The Shoreland Management Ordinance says density requirements to convert a resort to a residential PUD, which many resorts are in the process of doing, must conform to new construction standards.

In the case of Little Sand Lake Bay Villas, that would normally mean there's only room for four units in the first tier of development on the lake.

But the former Northern Star Resort had eight units, and an interpretation by the county's outside counsel indicated they can remain. So during the PUD conversion, owners Dick and Doug LeSage requested eight permanent dock slips along with a community launch.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf conceded the project exceeds normal density but said per the attorney's opinion, the existing rental units were deemed as "allowed" in the PUD.

"What they've presented is in compliance with the ordinance, the number of dwelling units is in excess of what the density would be if it was bare ground but in the conversion of the property to a residential PUD the county has the discretion to allow any overage to be converted or they can specify the number of units allowed," Buitenwerf explained.

"From a zoning point we've worked very hard to make sure we've met everything the zoning ordinance requires on this," said agent Tom Miller, referring to the septic system and drainage issues on the hilly resort.

The Planning Commission approved the concept. It now goes to the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners for final approval.

But the public discussion turned into a donnybrook. At one point a woman in the audience shouted to Hubbard County Commissioner Dick Devine, "How do we vote you out" of office?

"Put your fifty bucks down and have a shot at it," Devine retorted.

Commission chair Bob Ruhnke strictly imposed a three-minute public comment period for each member of the audience, cutting off speakers such as Doug Kingsley, DNR Fisheries supervisor, and COLA representatives.

And that made representative Chuck Diessner angry. One point being litigated in the 5th Crow Wing case is whether opponents have to voice their full objections at the public hearing to preserve their right to sue later.

The county's same outside counsel advising the Planning Commission on the Little Sand PUD, argued in court they did in the lawsuit. COLA members were not present when the 5th Crow Wing PUD and variance were discussed at county meetings in 2010.

"I understand the reason for the three-minute rule but when you have a serious legal issue here I think you have to allow the public to speak," Diessner told the Planning Commission. "You can't on one hand have your lawyer say we can't object because we didn't raise objections and on the other hand cut us off, so I'd like you to consider that and be a little more flexible."

"I think we will definitely consider it but the final settlement will have to be in court over it, I suppose," Ruhnke replied.

There were numerous objections to the eight docks and launch, voiced by Kingsley and others. The more boat traffic, the more disruption to aquatic wildlife, opponents argued. The small lake can't handle all the marine activity, opponents argued.

Developers say they can't sell the units individually without each having its own dock.

"It doesn't compute with me," Devine said. "Everybody I talk to with PUDs, they have less use, not more use (than resorts) and so how is it going to destroy what's there now? There's no expansion there at all. The resort will go away. It will all become private cabins."

"You do it your way, you better call your lawyer," Diessner warned the commission.

Sarah Smith

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

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