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Hubbard County Board mulls whether privacy rights should be forfeited in variance requests

Amendments to the county's Shoreland Management Ordinance came under scrutiny Wednesday at a public hearing when members of COLA suggested citizens be given the right to view projects requesting a variance or Conditional Use Permit.

Citizens have the right to view projects when a quorum of county board members go as a whole to site visitations. At that point the state's Public Meeting Laws are in effect.

But the county's Planning Commission has a "visitation committee" of a few members, not a quorum.

COLA members had to schedule their own visitation of Northern Star Resort's conversion to a residential housing community. And although the developer invited members to the Little Sand Lake project and discussed their concerns with them, lake activists say they may not be accommodated in future projects.

And that concerns representative Chuck Diessner, who suggested language in the ordinance allowing for public visitation when county zoning employees are on official business on private land.

If the public is to have relevant input at public hearings, it's necessary for taxpayers to have all the information they can get, Diessner argued.

"If it's county business and involves property and you're there on official business you should not deny citizens the right to view the property," Diessner said.

"I question if by ordinance we can interfere with people's privacy," board chair Greg Larson responded.

"I think the property owner has gotta have some rights," commissioner Cal Johannsen said,

"I don't know of any legal authority this board would have to require a property owner to give up a right to viewing," county attorney Don Dearstyne said. "From a constitutional standpoint I don't believe you have this legal right."

"I wonder how many COLA members would want the public tromping through their yards," commissioner Dick Devine asked.

Both the Coalition of Lake Associations members and the county will review proposed changes to the ordinance in light of a new state law defining what criteria merits awarding a variance.

A final draft of the changes will be presented at the July 6 meeting.

Sarah Smith

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

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