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Hubbard County Board approves Little Sand Lake PUD with several conditions

Surveyor Tom Miller, at left, and developer Richard LeSage explain the resort conversion to the Hubbard County board Wednesday. "I think it's a good project," LeSage told the commission, "We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes." (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
The Hubbard County board approved the Conditional Use Permit to convert the former Northern Star Resort to Little Sand Bay Villas, a Planned Unit Development, after a lengthy public hearing overseen by an armed deputy. The resort is on Little Sand Lake north of Dorset.2 / 2

A Little Sand Lake resort will join a growing legion of conversions to permanent residential lake communities.

Wednesday the Hubbard County board approved the Conditional Use Permit to convert the former Northern Star Resort to Little Sand Bay Villas, a Planned Unit Development, after a lengthy public hearing overseen by an armed deputy.

The resort is on Little Sand Lake north of Dorset.

The hearing at times was contentious but the debate was mostly civil. Last week's Planning Commission hearing, the first step in the CUP process, got very heated so security was called for Wednesday's board hearing.

"It's converting what currently is there to residential living units," said Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf.

County zoning authorities have been embroiled with members of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations over housing density and lake quality issues.

COLA members agreed the nine-unit PUD could remain on the lake, as it has been for the past half century as a resort.

But requests to close a ramp launch on the property to curtail uncontrolled access to the lake were not granted in the final CUP.

And that made commissioner Kathy Grell vote against the conversion. Commissioners Dick Devine, Greg Larson, Lyle Robinson and Cal Johannsen supported the conversion.

PUD developer Richard LeSage said the ramp would only be used by second tier cabin owners, but many questioned whether it would be open to other unit owners as well and who would police it.

And because of the threat of Aquatic Invasive Species, some lake residents and COLA members questioned how a private boat launch could be similarly policed for aquatic debris at launch times.

"We have no objection to the Planned Unit Development," Little Sand resident Rich Soderberg said. "But the launch is an uncontrolled access. The public access is controlled. You should have the applicants vacate that launch."

Little Sand's public access is staffed by volunteers that check boats and trailers for weeds before launching.

Much of the discussion centered around use of the land, and how it might change under new ownership.

Former 5th Crow Wing resort owner Dan Rehkamp, whose own PUD conversion is the subject of a lawsuit pending before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, bristled at the suggestion that resort owners were not responsible lake stewards, or that PUD buyers would not safeguard their property against pollution.

When resort owners make their livings off the lake, they have added incentives to protect the waters, he said.

"There's far less impact taking it from a resort to private ownership," Rehkamp argued. "Resort guests use the lake hard. This is a responsible effort."

And Rehkamp said lake use on 5th Crow Wing lessened considerably after he started selling his units to permanent residents, while taxes on the property rose.

"These Mom and Pop resorts get a 50 percent tax break," he said. "My taxes went up considerably since I converted."

COLA members said use is not one of the factors to be considered under the Shoreland Management Ordinance. The operation of a resort cannot be compared to the operation of a PUD in the conversion process, COLA representative Chuck Diessner said.

Boat slips are discretionary, Diessner added, and the county had the power to curtail dock growth along the lakeshore. The board granted all eight slips requested and the launch.

Some conditions were placed on the conversion, such as an erosion control plan and installation of rain gutters on the units to direct runoff away from the lake. Suggestions of rain gardens and a 30-foot buffer zone to trap runoff near the lakeshore did not pass, another reason Grell opposed the conversion.

A PUD requires that 50 percent of the lakeshore remain natural. This conversion leaves 60 percent of the shoreline in its natural condition,

But that didn't stop opposition to the eight boat slips the resort plans.

Opponents said that would encourage far more boat traffic than the small lake can handle.

Robinson asked COLA president Dan Kittilson, who lives on the lake, if the 150 cabin owners were limited to one boat per dock. Kittilson said no.

Robinson suggested placing those limitations on the other residents would lessen the aquatic impact more drastically than eight boat slips could negatively impact the lake.

COLA members questioned whether enough mitigation of the population density was being done in the conversion, as required under the ordinance.

"We're not against PUDs," Kittilson told the board. "We're not against Hubbard County. We're for protecting your tax base. We're not against you people but our lakes are under a grave threat with zebra mussels and they're coming."

The board also approved the preliminary plat of the development.

Sarah Smith

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

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