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A tough day at the office for BOA members, ESO staff

Eric Buitenwerf

Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment ran into a buzz saw of public disapproval Monday as members tried to justify or distance themselves from prior decisions.

Board Chair Lou Schwindt stepped in more than once to keep the lengthy discussions to the subject of the variances before the board, and to keep board members on track amid the growing criticism. Even the Environmental Services Office personnel came in for scorn, for the advice they give homeowners.

In a nutshell, board decisions are a product of the personalities on the board, the questions they ask, the way they interpret the law, Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf maintained to critics.

It's a thankless job. And with hours of training and a few lawsuits, Buitenwerf hopes the decisions aren't totally subjective.

After tabling a long-running request by a Big Mantrap Lake owner to subdivide a tract of property that lacked the required access, the board turned to a contentious request it grappled with last month. It didn't get easier.

Michael and Julie Marino had been granted a variance two years ago to make some improvements to their Grace Lake home.

Their most recent request ran into some hurdles at the board last month, which then suggested some options.

The couple wanted a setback variance for a storage shed and a platform deck. They moved a lakeside wall to be in line with other residences. But the department nevertheless recommended denial a second time.

Julie Marino's medical condition came into question regarding location of the storage unit. Her doctor indicated hauling skis, life jackets and other accoutrements down to the lakeshore would tax her lower extremities.

"It's not a disability, it's a medical difficulty," Mike Marino explained when Buitenwerf said it wouldn't meet the criteria of obtaining a handicapped vehicle sticker, which is what is used for health-related variance requests.

The board pointed out the couple had a large "nonconforming guest cottage" on the small lot.

"Practical difficulty hasn't changed in two years," Mike Marino objected. "You're in effect changing. Now you're saying our setup is not adequate for a variance."

He blamed new member Ken Grob for changing the makeup of the board.

"State law has changed," Grob said.

Buitenwerf acknowledged the BOA makeup was different than it was when the original variance was granted. "They may view a matter one way at one time" and revise their views later.

"You've already got the variance (of two years ago)," Schwindt said, cutting off further arguing. "You don't want that."

The board denied all three parts of the latest request. Marino and his builder left the room shaking their heads in disagreement.

The BOA also denied a previous request by Edward and Marcia Marthaler to replace a nonconforming home on Grace Lake with a new structure that would not meet the setback. The couple was not in attendance.

Grob said meeting the setback wouldn't present the homeowners with "line of sight" issues since the house would sit behind its neighbors, and the couple could actually raise the desired height to 35 feet instead of the 29 feet the couple had proposed at a 75-foot setback.

The Marthalers had objected to moving their home back, indicating it would give them a "tunnel view."

The board also came under fire from Tom Kimmer and Dave Johnson, agents for Jacquelyn Lewis, who sought an 18-month extension to a building permit on Big Sand Lake.

After a lengthy process to replace the septic system, the plumber tried to reconnect the old cabin to the new system. He discovered the floor was rotting. Machinery to repair the foundation couldn't get into the lot except where the guest cottage stood.

Work on the guest cottage meanwhile stalled. The building permit expired. Before it did, the homeowner asked for an extension. In looking into the extension, the ESO determined that the nonconforming aspect of the guest cottage was too great to allow building to proceed, so the board denied the request.

"She was caught in a chain of circumstance, Kimmer protested. "We're just seeking breathing room to get it done."

"The lot size would not allow a guest cabin," Grob said. "It's not desirable from a density standpoint."

Buitenwerf said the office had consulted legal counsel, which had recommended against extending the permit to allow construction of the guest cabin.

"If legal counsel said not to issue it, I have difficulty overriding it," Schwindt said.

"Then why wasn't the applicant made aware of that?" an angry Kimmer asked, accusing the board of changing the rules of the game at halftime.

Two more men left the meeting unhappy.

In other business, the board:

n Granted a request by Alan Grimm to place a small addition to the back of his Long Lake cabin to accommodate a handicapped bathroom.

n Granted a request by Lon and Jane Kratochvil to replace an old seasonal cabin with a new one in a PUD on Grace Lake that would encroach slightly on the shore impact zone.

Moving the structure back further would put it 11 feet from the road, Lon Kratochvil told the board.

n Tabled, after a lengthy discussion, a request by Michael and Kathleen Markman for a platform addition to their Potato Lake home. They realized, mid-plan, the steps to the platform encroached into the shore impact zone. "We're looking for advice on a plan revision," Markman and builder Shannon Henrickson said to the board.

They are removing railroad ties with creosote. Neighbor James Potratz gave a lengthy discourse on how the project should proceed, while curbing the erosion of the land and saving the environment.

n Denied a request for Gerald and Joyce Hoeschen to repair a noncompliant platform on their Pickerel Lake home. The deck was illegally built, possibly in the mid-1980s and has been the victim of shoreline erosion and damage.

The couple said they were advised the deck could be repaired, but likely not replaced.

"We're trying to fix something that was done wrong in the past," Gerald Hoeschen said.

"Technically it's an illegal platform" and the ESO can't recommend repairing it, Buitenwerf said, apologizing for the faulty advice.

"It's hard for us to say it should just be downsized."

Buitenwerf said he would consult the county attorney for advice on how to proceed.

"Everybody would like to have a platform that close to the water," Schwindt said, wincing at the precedent the board would set at approving its repair.

n Granted a request by Dean and Beth Watkins to enlarge their cabin at Run Away Bay, a PUD on Lake Belle Taine.

"We bought with the expectation that we could add 50 percent," Dean Watkins said.

Their builder advised the board that several of the cabins at the PUD have been enlarged through variance grants, a claim that made Buitenwerf wince.

The board granted the request for a 12-by-26-foot addition to the cabin and a 4-by-8 deck west of the cabin.

Buitenwerf said the 50 percent expansion rule doesn't apply when a structure sits in the shore impact zone. The PUD will be asked to bring the other cabins into compliance.

n Granted a request by Larry Wing, president of Forest Estates on Potato Lake, to finish a development that would have placed two 6-foot boardwalks across the wetland on the property for ATVs and golf cart use, a parking area for those vehicles and a vegetative buffer.

n Approved a request by a group of neighbors on Middle Crooked Lake to end a long-simmering legal battle by vacating a 33-foot road easement that a house sits directly on. Roy Hummel explained the neighbors worked to create a plat and one resident later placed the home in the middle of the road easement by mistake.

Sarah Smith

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

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