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BOA grapples with how to enforce no-sleeping quarters

If a Board of Adjustment decision Monday were to be enforced, Hubbard County would have to hire a platoon of pajama police.

It's not gonna happen.

In lieu of that, the honor system has to prevail. How else can the county know whether garage second floors are being used as living quarters?

"Is a sleeping bag a bed? How about an air mattress, or do they have to use the floor?" asked homeowner Harry Michelson Jr., as he tried to sort out the implications of a board denial of his variance request.

Michelson and his father, Harry Sr., sought a variance for a guest cottage above a renovated garage on their Long Lake lot.

The Michelsons had applied for a building permit two years ago that expired due to inactivity. They then applied for a variance in March, which was denied due to insufficient information on the application. They drove here from Wisconsin to oversee the request.

They returned to the BOA Monday looking to convert the upstairs of their garage to a bunkhouse to sleep the kids at night, to ease overcrowding.

The space had already been renovated when BOA members toured the property last week.

BOA member Ken Grob pointed out the bedroom was more plush than his own home, and wondered how the renovations transpired to that point.

"The permit says no living quarters without a variance," he scolded the men. "I don't know how you missed it. I don't want to lecture but this was to be storage, not living quarters. You're asking for permission to put beds up there."

"I can't go along with this," BOA member Earl Benson said. "You have 50 feet of lake frontage. If we did this for you we'd have 25 people in here next month asking for the same thing."

"In my mind it's already a bedroom," Grob said, suggesting the family should have sought an after-the-fact variance.

"We're splitting hairs," board chair Lou Schwindt said when the discussion turned to whether the children could put out sleeping bags at night. "Where do we take this? Is a sleeping bag considered a bed?"

The lot does not meet any of the required minimum lot dimension standards, the Environmental Services Office determined.

"The lot is minute," Michelson Jr., admitted. "I never realized you had to have so many square feet of lot to have so many square feet of building."

"You would need 225 feet of shoreline for a guest cottage," member Charles Knight said. "You have 50."

COLA member Chuck Diessner agreed with the board's reluctance to grant the request.

"This will open Pandora's box," he warned the board. Coalition of Lake Associations members have monitored the BOA for the past two years and given input at meetings.

"If you allow this everyone in the county will build above their garage," Diessner added. "Something needs to be done to change that room so that it can't be used for what it legally can't be used for."

"This is wrong," a frustrated Benson said. "I don't think there's any way we as a board can make him go back to studs."

The board unanimously voted to prevent the space's use as a bedroom, admitting there was nothing they could do to enforce it, except for a bed check.

"Coming back to the board for an after-the-fact variance would be a waste of money and time and that's what we've just denied," Schwindt said.

The regulation prevents smaller lake lot owners from building over density requirements, which puts a strain on the lake environment.

In other action, the board:

n Approved an access road to a peninsula between Dead Lake and Ojibway Lake for an eventual development. The road couldn't comply with the 100-foot setback in some areas.

For now, owner Scott Rech was seeking to improve the road for better access by service vehicles and campers.

Eventually, his family has planned an 11-unit PUD for the peninsula.

"We've been working on this for 10-15 years," he said.

"So enabling the road would enable a conforming PUD?" Grob asked.

"Yes," was Rech's reply.

Knight had problems with the way the request came before the board.

"This should have gone through the Planning Commission," he said of the Planned Unit Development. "It's a PUD and should not be in front of the Planning Commission, not us."

"Its definitely not permission for us to build," Rech agreed.

Diessner suggested conditioning the roadwork on the family needing no more variances.

"If they need a variance it opens up a whole new issue of the propriety of the road," he pointed out.

The board eventually conditioned the roadwork on Rech not raising the grade level and causing runoff problems into the lake.

n Approved a request by Roger Bailey to put a new roof on a home partly owned by his daughter that would have increased the roof height on the dwelling in the Lake Belle Taine shore impact zone.

n Approved a variance request by Shirley Garcia for a guest cottage that exceeded the allowable 700 square feet on a substandard lot.

"There's a history of nonconformance here in my mind," Grob said.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said the home was built by permit two decades ago without benefit of the GIS technology that exists today.

A survey revealed that the guest cabin was actually on Garcia's land, not her sister's, she told the board. That's why it's so close to the property line. The board allowed the guest cabin to remain, on the condition it never have water service or a bathroom.

Diessner suggested dividing the property administratively without needing a variance. He said if each building was on a separate lot, the family would have more flexibility as to the future of the 5-acre parcel on Oak Lake.

Grob said he preferred conditions on the variance to subdividing the property.

n Tabled a request by James and Kelly Peterson to allow an unimproved lot to be developed on Horseshoe Lake.

A neighbor worried about the setback to his mound septic system and Kelly Peterson agreed to get a lot line situated by a surveyor and work with the neighbors so as not to encroach on their drain field right-of-way.

The case will come back to the board once a survey and resolution have been accorded.

Sarah Smith

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

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