Weather Forecast


DNR threatens to sue Detroit Lakes if city council approves new hotel near beach

A young eagle sits on a boat lift on Little Detroit Lake, (Forum News Service photo)

Concerned about runoff into Little Detroit Lake and other zoning issues, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is threatening legal action against Detroit Lakes if the city council approves the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Hotel project near the beach.

The new hotel is proposed for the existing Capri Motel site on Washington Avenue.

The city Planning Commission and Community Development Committee both recommended approval of the new hotel, despite a Feb. 24 DNR recommendation that the developer’s application for a conditional use permit be denied.

The city council has the project on its Tuesday night agenda. It can approve the project, reject it or send it back the planning commission for more discussion and changes.

The DNR wrote to the mayor and city council April 8, saying the hotel project “demonstrates a disregard for state laws that protect shoreland areas from high impact development.” It threatened to sue if the council approves the project as proposed.

The $11.3 million project would replace the Capri Motel with a 69-unit motel, nine condominiums and a separate restaurant to be located on West Lake Drive.

The DNR says the city should have required a variance for the project since it is so far outside the height and runoff requirements in the city’s own planned unit development ordinance.

The city ordinance, for example, allows 35 percent of a development to be impervious surface, which means anything that doesn't absorb rainfall, including buildings and parking lots.

The hotel project would have more than twice the allowable impervious surface.

Also, the height of the four-story building, 52 feet, is twice what the ordinance allows.

The DNR says the hotel project calls for an extreme deviation from the rules.

And it says the city needs to stop using the planned unit development ordinance to “circumvent” the DNR-approved Shoreland Ordinance.

“Based on (the) staff report for the March 26 Planning Commission meeting, it appears the city has a consistent history of circumventing the shoreland standards in the manner seen here,” DNR Deputy General Counsel David P. Iverson said in the letter.

The DNR said it expects the city to either deny the project, asked that it be redesigned or propose changes to the city’s Shoreland Ordinance and present them to the DNR for review and approval.

“Please inform me of the city’s intent and plan of action by April 17,” Iverson wrote. “If the city does not take the recommended action or does not comply with the timeframe, the DNR will be forced to initiate appropriate legal action.”

City Attorney Charles Ramstad could not immediately be reached for comment, but he told Minnesota Public Radio that the zoning issues involving the proposed hotel project are a judgment call.

“I think this is a matter of judgment and opinion as to what is excessive (departure from the zoning rules) and what is not,” he told said. “The city’s position is simply that it is for the city to decide whether they are or they are not appropriate.”