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Cabin improvements must follow ordinances closely

The Hubbard County Board of Adjustment appears to be taking a hard line enforcing shoreland ordinances.

That may be good news to environmentalists, but several frustrated property owners left the monthly meeting Monday questioning the process to obtain a variance - and what it takes to improve aging properties they bought unaware they're now nonconforming.

The five-member board began the day denying a variance to John Ulschmid, an Island Lake cabin owner whose architect appeared last month before the board.

Ulschmid was seeking a variance to add on to his cabin. Last month architect Stephen Holt was directed by the board to move a proposed addition to another side of the house to minimize the excavation issues associated with building on the side closest to the lake.

The revamped plans didn't pass muster and the board denied the variance altogether Monday. Ulschmid was seeking to put an addition of more than the allowable 50 percent onto a nonconforming structure.

One corner of the cabin sits in the shore impact zone. Board members, as they did last month, said they preferred the cabin be moved altogether away from the lake. That would entail disrupting the septic system and drain field that are situated on an elevated area behind the cabin.

There was disagreement over whether the elevated area was a bluff that could legally accommodate a building. Additionally, Holt said the cost to move or tear down a structurally sound home would be prohibitive.

"There's 800 feet depth in that lot but the topography makes it costly to do," acknowledged board member Earl Benson. "Is there any way you could get it out of the impact zone?'

"It seems counterproductive to keep it out of the shoreline and have all this disruption," Holt said. He also addressed a neighbor's concerns about roof runoff, parking and drainage.

In voting to deny the request, board chair Chick Knight said, "We have to take in the ecology of the area in moving the home. He's inside the point of no return in his distance from the lake."

Ulschmid left, looking chagrined. He's invested money into drafting the plans and redrafting them, with failure as the outcome.

"They felt they were improving the area and improving property values as well as improving the overall local economy," Holt said of his clients. "I'm not convinced this represents good stewardship."

The Ulschmids had agreed last month to move a front deck on the property to bring the home more into compliance with the shore impact ordinance.

The board also denied a somewhat similar request by James Gray, a seasonal resident of Schoolcraft Lake, also seeking a permit to build an addition.

"Now would be an ideal time to move the cabin," suggested board member Lou Schwindt. "This is a natural environment lake. The cost wouldn't be that prohibitive. You're going to end up replacing the cabin anyway once you dig into it. It's an opportunity to be a good steward of the lake and move it back. It will improve the quality of the lake."

Board members said the wood on the home was rotting when they toured the site.

"It would very expensive to move it back into the hill," Gray said. "It would be a substantial expense."

"This is a great example where we can get that house so it's conforming," Benson said.

Neighbor Burt Manz spoke in favor of the variance request.

"This guy saved that lake," he said of Gray. "If it wasn't for him we'd have umpteen cabins on the lake. He saved it from developers."

But Gray was unable to save his request for a variance. It was denied.

In other action, the board:

-Tabled three variance requests with suggestions for future appearances before the board.

One, on Kabekona Lake, was a variance for a guest cabin by Richard and Vicci Geckler. Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf suggested the lot could actually be subdivided, even factoring in a wetland area. Gecklers said they weren't aware that option was a possibility and thought building the guest cabin was their only solution to accommodate family and guests. But they preferred a subdivision option with a separate home, so they agreed to explore the option and return.

The board also tabled a request by David and Marla Jorgensen to make some improvements to their Lake George property. Those improvements are complicated by a road running through the lot. David Jorgensen said it posed safety concerns crossing and re-crossing the road to get to the lakeshore.

The board wants a main cabin moved back from the lake out of the shore impact zone but the proposed addition would encroach on the road right-of-way. Jorgenson said he already removed two dilapidated structures on the property knowing he would be able to build on to the main structure under the ordinance at the time.

Now the ordinance has changed. Although there's room across the road to put a larger structure, "we want to cut down on the trips across the road for our kids and grandkids," he told the board. The township won't let him move or relocate the road. The board instructed him to try to re-situate the home and its addition and return.

A third request was to subdivide three combined Portage Lake lots into two. Michael Hartung packaged the lots in 1995, as required by his lender. He built on a portion of the property. Rather than disturbing both ends of the existing home to add on, he was advised to build on the remaining property and subdivide the lot.

"This was a new process I didn't understand," Hartung said. "I'm looking for advice. It's your decision as to how it gets divided. This was the most conservative approach to divide the lots equally."

But one of the lots became nonconforming, so the board tabled the request to make the new lot compliant with ordinances.

"You wouldn't be creating a lot that doesn't meet the qualifications," Schwindt said.

Hartung was willing to do that, but admitted, "If I build a new house I don't want to go through seeing you guys every month."

-Approved a request to rebuild a deck on Long Lake by Evelyn, LuAnne and Carolynne White. "It's falling apart; the railing is unsafe," the board noted in granting the variance.

-Granted a request by Michael and Darcy Thompson to make improvements on a lot between Mud and Wolf lakes to upgrade an existing structure and remove a mobile home, a shed and a garage to improve the property. The homeowners have a hardship because they bought property the previous owner had illegally subdivided, the board reasoned.

-Tabled a request by Daryl and Beverlee Moenke to replace a nonconforming cabin on Island Lake North. The board noted the new cabin had already been built so the variance application is after-the-fact and the new structure is not in compliance with a 3-foot separation provision. The Moenkes did not attend the meeting. The board said the couple will have to re-submit the variance request.