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Hubbard County BOA allows longer comment period

As Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment continues to fine tune the granting of variances, it loosened the time limit for public input on projects due to pressure from lake activists.

Two weeks ago the county's Planning Commission tried to enforce a strict three-minute time limit for members of the public to voice their objections or support on various projects. That met with vocal opposition from the Coalition of Lake Associations members, who opposed a resort's conversion to a residential commune.

Monday Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf quietly suggested to BOA chair Jerry Cole before the meeting that he should allow five minutes for comments.

More and more, COLA members, who monitor every meeting, are urging the board to follow internal staff recommendations in granting or denying variances. The board has in the past taken an independent look at variance requests.

And as board members grapple with allowing lake residents fair use of their properties, they're left to deal with issues like real estate agents making deceptive promises about what a buyer can or can't do with a given property, and landowners who subdivide illegally.

Such was the case of Earl Klosner, who bought an "illegally created lot" on Shallow Lake but was assured by his realtor that even though he couldn't build on the parcel, he could park a self-contained travel trailer on it with a storage shed.

Nope, no way, the board voted.

"You may have recourse through the legal system to make it a normal-sized lot," suggested board member Lou Schwindt.

"We bought the lot knowing it was 'non-buildable,'" Klosner said. "Our realtor said we could put a travel trailer on it."

"To even set a trailer on it, I have a big problem with it," Schwindt said.

Neighbors also objected to the 75-foot lot being used as a weekend campsite. Klosner introduced the realtor's ad saying the lot was 100 feet of lakeshore. It was placed into the official record.

Member Earl Benson said the lot lacked the required square footage to build on, it also lacked the necessary setback from the lake and any building would encroach on the road right-of-way.

As the board rejected the request 5-0, Cole voiced some sympathy for the situation.

"I think you deserve some use of your property," he said.

In the case of another illegal lot, this time on Steamboat Lake, owners Curwood and Betty Gacksetter were seeking a variance to declare the lot in question as 'buildable,' then allow it to be subdivided into a riparian lot and a non-riparian lot. The total plat is more than 19 acres, but the riparian parcel only has 126 feet of lakeshore. The lake requires 150.

And the situation was complicated by the fact that neither lot had a recorded easement on it. Nearly 30 property owners from Hubbard and Cass counties cross the private property daily to gain access to a dedicated road, Hubbard County 39.

Board member Charles Knight said the residents likely had acquired easements by prescription, or long-term use, that were irrevocable even though unrecorded.

"It's nonconforming now," Schwindt said. "It will still be nonconforming but not less than before. It became noncompliant when someone sold a piece in 1990. They didn't catch it at the time. It's basically an illegal split and I don't know if we can do anything about it at this time."

The board voted to approve the lot size and subdivision providing some sort of continuous use can be proven by the property owners that would constitute an easement.

Two neighbors wrote to object.

In other action, the board:

n Denied a variance application by Robert and Judy McLaren to construct a lakeshore addition to replace an existing storage shed with a detached garage at less then the 100-foot setback, but granted a request for a lakeside addition on a nonconforming structure. In doing so, board members said there was ample room to move the shed behind the home.

n Approved a variance for Robert and Ray Pogatshnik to add on to a nonconforming garage that does not meet the 100-foot ordinary high water setback, rear lot line setback or road right-of-way setback.

Board members reasoned the Lake Gilmore garage had become nonconforming as water levels on the lake shifted, and an addition going further from the lake was not a problem as long as the roof line stayed the same.

n Approved 4-1 a variance request by Carsten and Barbara Burros to enlarge a lakeside deck on their Lake Belle Taine home that didn't meet the ordinary high water mark setback.

"It seems to be a reasonable request," Cole said. "It does not extend any closer to the lake. They tend to raise the ordinary high water mark every six years so it's difficult for residents to stay in compliance" with Belle Taine's fluctuating waters.

n Denied 3-2 a variance request by Steve and Mary Kusske to build a retirement home while allowing two guest cabins to remain on a duplex lot on Lake Plantagenet.

Even though the lakeshore measures 425 feet, several other buildings remained on the parcel Kusske didn't want to remove and he was not in favor of splitting the lot, which would have allowed the three home structures.

"At this time I don't understand the split," Knight said. " I have no problem with building a house. I just don't like the location and all the other buildings."

"I have a problem with three separate dwellings on one lot," Benson said. "It might result in too much density."

n Approved a variance request by Ron and Craig Fallgren to put a driveway onto a lot on Horseshoe Lake to eventually build a retirement home. The request was to bring fill in to a possible wetland area to build the access. "He chose the shortest route to get into the property," Cole said.

n Approved a variance for Madeline Lawrence to build a greater than 50 percent addition onto a nonconforming cabin on Lake Kabekona at less than the 100-foot ordinary high water mark. Lawrence told the board it was to accommodate a handicapped accessible bathroom, extra bedrooms and a basement.

n Approved a variance request by Jeffrey and Mary Ann Thole to approve an after-the-fact variance for a deck that exceeded the 400 square foot limit and allow an addition for a garage.

The board asked Tholes to remove a shed that sits 18 feet from the water's edge as an "exchange" for building the garage an extra 160 square feet to accommodate the lost storage capacity.

"We used to require this as part of a condition but my understanding is that we can't do that anymore," Schwindt said. "We can ask them to do it voluntarily."

The shed is to be removed within 30 days of the garage's completion.

The board received an anonymous letter opposing the plan, reading in part, "It sounds like a sandwich job to me." The writer claimed the impervious surfaces would go from 25 to 40 percent on the lot, an unacceptably high level.

And that provided a conundrum for the board - to allow the anonymous comment or strike it from the record.

"It lacked the name and address we require," Buitenwerf said. "As part of the record I'd advise not removing it."

However, the board then passed a motion requiring names and addresses of all letters submitted in favor or opposition of a project from now on.

n Handled two variance requests by Earl and Conrad Johnson, brothers who live on Shallow Lake. The requests had previously been tabled for more information.

Earl Johnson, represented by Conrad, was seeking an after-the-fact variance to leave a storage shed in the 150-foot setback area. The board denied the request, maintaining the lot had ample room to move the shed into compliance.

Conrad Johnson's after-the-fact request was to allow a deck to remain that did not comply with the plans submitted in an earlier variance request. The deck was built two feet wider than presented.

Conrad Johnson explained that he widened the deck because he has leg problems and couldn't go up and down as many stairs as the old design had planned for.

"I believe this is a practical difficulty here," Cole said.

But Knight opposed the plan, complaining that although the board might have approved the 10-foot deck if originally presented in the first variance request, the Johnsons had required the ESO office to do extra administrative work just bringing the matter back before the board.

"I have a problem with going back to the office, changing the diagram," Knight said. "Do we have a doctor's excuse" that Conrad Johnson qualifies for a medical waiver of the ordinance?

"We need to draw the line someplace."

Sarah Smith

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

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