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Questioning of variances continues from COLA

Friction between Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment and members of COLA is getting to be such a regular staple at monthly meetings, there should be a spot on the agenda for it.

Monday was yet another example.

Coalition of Lake Associations president Dan Kittilson and COLA member Chuck Diessner questioned three of four variances discussed, some of which board members had questioned as well.

But it was when Diessner cautioned that to grant a variance for two first aid stations at a girls camp within the shore impact zone would set a "very dangerous" precedent, the normally taciturn Arnold Christianson spoke out.

Questioning whether COLA was using "common sense," Christianson said, "Every month you're here with something..."

The frustrated BOA member rarely speaks at meetings, except to agree with other board members.

What brought Christianson's anger to a vocal level was when Kittilson asked to address the board after Diessner had just objected to the camp variance and board chair Lou Schwindt closed the public discussion.

Schwindt asked Christianson if he would allow Kittilson to respond to his comment.

"I don't want to hear it," Christianson said angrily.

Representatives of Camp Kamaji on Wolf Lake were requesting an after-the-fact-variance for two first aid structures too close to the lake and an addition to the yacht club larger than allowed by permit.

The board asked camp manager Randy Nyberg and owner Mike Jay to remove eight feet of the yacht building and move the two first aid stations 100 feet back from the lake, essentially denying the variance request.

The board and camp representatives agreed first aid supplies could be kept in a box on the dock or on a post without requiring a variance.

Jay said it was important to have first aid supplies near where the activities take place in the camp. Running up the hill to retrieve them could cost valuable time, Jay suggested.

"Everybody with property on the lake has a need for first aid," Dissner objected. "You need to discourage people from doing what they want...We can't have people constructing stuff like this on the shoreline."

Diessner repeatedly took the board back to the "practical difficulty" standard of the state variance law.

"You've converted a slope to a need for building on the shoreline," he said incredulously. "This is for convenience," he said of the first aid structures. "There is no way to justify this under state law."

Diessner pointed out the camp mainly used the buildings for storage of water skis, life vests and other equipment, besides the first aid supplies.

"This is Pandora's box," he continued. "You won't be in compliance with Minnesota law."

Schwindt voiced some frustration that two of the four variance requests Monday were after-the-fact.

"People are totally oblivious that we have rules and regulations," he said.

And those two requests wouldn't even have needed variances if the owners had built to specifications. You can replace existing docks and structures at the same specifications, Schwindt pointed out. In the case of the camp, the yacht club was enlarged without a permit.

In the second after-the-fact case, a 12-foot deck was installed around a Palmer Lake home that jutted a few feet into the shore impact zone.

The BOA also denied that after-the-fact variance and asked Tom Notch to cut the deck back four feet to put it into compliance.

Both the board and COLA expressed frustration that people come to the BOA to "seek forgiveness, not permission."

Notch said the eight-foot deck wouldn't hold a table and created traffic problems. The board voted to allow him a 150-square-foot deck addition to the side of the home away from the lake to place a table upon.

"You could have had exactly what you had (before) by a permit," Schwindt told Notch.

Member Charles Knight disagreed, saying the board's mission is to protect the lakes and he didn't see how a deck 142 feet from the lakeshore would harm the lake.

In other action, the board:

n Allowed homeowners James and Anne Dougherty to wrap a deck around their home on Lower Bottle Lake. The home became non-compliant when a bluff impact zone issue arose after it was built, necessitating the need for a variance.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said his office didn't object to the project even though a third of the deck might be in the bluff impact zone.

n Allowed Concordia Birkholz to combine three substandard riparian lots with two others to make the residential lots more compliant.

Jeff Vigdal, who presented the variance request to the board, said the owners would agree not to develop the middle lot and leave it as a pathway to the lake.

After the meeting, Kittilson asked to address the board after it had adjourned.

As he has in the past, Kittilson struck a conciliatory tone.

He said COLA's mission is to protect the area's lakes and property values.

"We're not here to be contrary," he said. "We're here to protect our lakes. They're the major economic engine of the county."

Sarah Smith

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

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