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Board looks at increasingly close variance requests

Hubbard County Board of Adjustment members are beginning to feel the strain of making the close calls on lakeshore development.

Board members are pausing longer to suggest a course of action, trying to hammer out more compromises.

Will granting one or two variances to build in the shore impact zone invite criticism and an expectation they will and should be granted if the encroachment is slight?

"This will be the second variance you will have granted in the shore impact zone," said COLA president Dan Kittilson during BOA's monthly meeting Monday.

The Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the county and the BOA. Members attend every meeting to pressure the BOA into following the county's shoreland management ordinances.

Kittilson quoted board member Charles Knight, who has often said the first 50 feet of lakeshore is "sacrosanct" and shouldn't be touched.

The board nonetheless granted a request for a Grace Lake property owner to locate an addition 43 feet from the shoreline. One corner of the current home is 25 feet from the lake and is considered nonconforming.

Charles and Marge Gillespie asked to put a new bedroom and an enlarged bathroom onto their Grace Lake home.

"It seems like a reasonable request," said board member Lou Schwindt, noting that most Grace Lake properties are situated very close to the shoreline.

"He moved it as far back as he can without setting this on his well," Schwindt added.

During one pregnant pause, contractor Jeff Tolle said, "What's got you so scared? COLA?"

Tolle's project was one such compromise. Homeowner Bonnie Peterson wanted to add a bedroom and a 16-foot deck to her 3rd Crow Wing Lake home.

The deck would have encroached on the bluff impact zone and couldn't meet the 100-foot setback. The board suggested 10 feet.

"Does the deck have to be that big?" queried member Arnold Christianson. Tolle agreed to move the house a bit and a 12-foot deck was agreed upon.

The board also tabled three requests, one for the last time, by Michael and Lisa Reinhart.

The couple has been trying to subdivide a Big Mantrap Lake tract into two parcels, but the new tract lacks a required 33-foot easement, which other property owners have vocally opposed.

The board has given the Reinharts postponements so the factions could come to an amicable agreement over the easement.

That has not occurred.

Big Mantrap Lake resident Helen Marsh said that would put the easement through her living room.

In voting to give a one-year extension, Schwindt conditioned tabling the request on not allowing another delay if the access question hasn't been resolved by 2012.

The board also tabled a request by James and Helen Melland to allow an after-the-fact variance for placement of a shed too close to the property line on their Lake George land, and to place a detached guest cabin on the property.

The board seemed unlikely to grant the shed placement; members said there was ample room to move the structure into compliance elsewhere on the lot.

The guest cabin issue was tabled to allow the board to re-inspect the lot. As it currently stands, it lacks the Residential Lot Suitable Area to place a guest cabin on. Board members suggested adding on to the house instead.

Builder Roger Peterson that "would take away from the open design on the log home. The cost factor would be extreme to build on."

And the setback issues would remain even if Peterson moved the home.

The board agreed the site drawings they were reviewing were misleading, so they asked Peterson to stake out where a cabin would go, and the lot lines, so they could determine if a guest cabin could fit into the lot.

Another variance request was tabled on Long Lake to allow the parties to work out a compromise.

COLA member Bill Cowman, who represents both neighbors involved in the issue, had presented a proposal that would result in one couple selling part of a back lot to the neighbors to locate a septic system on.

The present riparian lot is conforming. The two lots would not be. That bothered the board.

As a compromise, Cowman suggested selling a smaller portion of the back lot to the Swiss couple who lives there seasonally and allowing the lot of Dean and Margaret Halverson to remain in compliance.

Board members will re-visit that lot as well and requested a new plan of development to look at. If approved, the smaller lot would likely be designated by the board as "unbuildable," or for use by the septic system only.

In other action, the board:

n Approved a variance for Call of the Wild Coop Assn., to add a 12-by-20-foot room onto the back of a Grace Lake Cabin. The early PUD is called a co-op because it is a grandfathered nonconformity, Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said.

Other cabin owners in the co-op have added 50 percent additions to their homes, so the board granted Rollie and Gail Engel the right to add to theirs, also.

The development's location in the shore impact zone was caused by the previous landowner and Engels were stuck with the property as is, the board reasoned. There were practical difficulties in making the lot livable.

n Denied a request by CPL Partners, LLP., to add four RV lots to a resort on Lake Belle Taine's Beauty Bay.

The lots would have required a variance from the 100-foot setback, were greater than the number allowed on the property and encroached on the bluff impact zone.

The resort was converted to rental units in 2005, surveyor Kevin Lindow told the board. But in the current economy, the resort wants to enhance its bottom line by adding more rentals in the most effective manner.

The Residential Lot Suitable Area ordinance would allow the resort one unit up to 1,400 feet, Lindow said.

Here, the request was for four units, each 400 square feet.

"It's way over density and those RVs would be parked in the bluff impact zone, in fact almost on top of the bluff," member Earl Benson said in urging denial of the request.

"This is a much better situation for the lake than a permanent structure," surveyor Tom Miller argued.

Kittilson asked about docks for the rental units.

"We're going to run into a docking situation," board chair Jerry Cole suggested. "I can see about 65 variances coming up" for boat slips.

No boat slips were granted in the 2005 request to convert to rental units, Buitenwerf said, so the ownership would have to go through the conditional use process if residents wanted docks.

The motion to deny was 5-0.

n Approved with conditions a request by Michael and Jennifer Hoagberg to construct a single family house on their lot on Duck Lake.

The Hoagbergs were asking to place their house in alignment with neighboring properties 77 feet from the lakeshore. The board said they would have to adhere to the 100-foot setback, which places the home in the middle of an existing road and might obscure their view of the lake by their neighbors' homes.

The couple had wanted to locate the new home on the old home's footprint. But board members found the nearly 600-foot long lot had ample room to build on outside of the shore impact zone.

Benson showed the strain of the decision when he remarked, "I would like to not have to make a decision on it."

"It would be extremely disruptive to all the properties to move the road and cut down more trees," Michael Hoagberg argued. The private access road is used by the neighbors, he said.

The board compromised, allowing the Hoagbergs to increase the size of the footprint if they built beyond the legal setback.

n Approved a request by David and Teresa Bash to build a new structure on a "postage stamp-sized" lot on Long Lake, replacing a cabin built on stilts with a ground level model.

Architect Stephen Holt said the new cabin would be 86 feet from the lake, 20 feet further than the present home, and the septic system would be located across the road on a back lot.

"It's the best he can do," Benson said in approving the request.

Approved a request by Charles Cowan, representing the Cowan Family Trust, to place a new cabin on a Kabekona Lake lot moving it 25 feet further from the lakeshore.

The current cabin sits 45 feet from the water's edge; the new home would be 70 feet back but still with the shore impact zone.

Cowan explained he couldn't locate the home further back without encroaching on a utility easement.

"This is a unique piece of property," Cole said. "I think he's developed a lake-friendly plan."

n Approved an after-the-fact variance for a Shinker Lake couple that removed vegetation in the shore impact zone. Kelly and Jamie Etzler said they were not aware of vegetation requirements when they cleared downed trees and scrub brush from their lake home and placed a trailer on the lot.

The couple said they removed much of the vegetation because it was noxious weeds and for safety reasons, so they could see their children playing along the lakeshore.

Kittilson said it was disappointing the couple didn't seem to know the ordinance requirements and suggested the ESO was the place to disseminate such information. The ordinances are posted online.

Hubbard County commissioner Lyle Robinson worries that the more grief board members take for their decisions, the less likely it will be to find members of the public to replace them when this board retires.

"These guys do a great job," he said.

BOA members are appointed by the commissioners in their respective districts to four-year terms.

Because there is a lengthy learning curve, Robinson said a large turnover in board members could be detrimental to 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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