BOA clamps down on homeowners, then relents and grants all variances

Two different property owners questioned the rationale behind Hubbard County's Shoreland Ordinances Wednesday as they requested variances. Both were granted their requests, however. But Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment is asking tougher quest...

Kabekona property
This Kabekona Lake property was the subject of a lengthy debate at Wednesday's Hubbard County Board of Adjustment meeting. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Two different property owners questioned the rationale behind Hubbard County's Shoreland Ordinances Wednesday as they requested variances.

Both were granted their requests, however.

But Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment is asking tougher questions of landowners, especially in defining what consists of a hardship or practical difficulty worthy of granting a variance.

And that may have been the source of the homeowners' frustration.

When it was all said and done, the two landowners, strangers at the beginning of the meeting, shook hands and shook their heads as if they'd just emerged from a war and were comparing wounds.


Gary and Sue Schiess of Edina recently bought commercial property on Kabekona Lake with the intent of turning the 14 acres into residential "legacy" property for their family.

They were thunderstruck when their proposal to build a new structure within the 100-foot setback was not received warmly, even though the new structure would move 13 feet further from the lake than the existing house.

At one point a frustrated Gary Schiess threatened to put the acreage back on the market.

The couple said moving the structure back to the ordinary high water mark "would be terribly disruptive" because of the excavation involved.

They had proposed a single floored structure with a walk-out basement and ample rain gardens, rain spouts and native plantings to mitigate any runoff.

"Planting deep-rooted plants, we can make a tremendous difference to the lake," said Sue Schiess, a Master Gardener.

The couple was told they could build on the existing footprint and add 50 percent on to the structure under the ordinance.

Gary Schiess called that a scenario "where everybody loses. If we go back 100 feet we're going up," he said. "That's certainly not improving the aesthetics of the property."


He said moving the home back to the 100-foot mark created problems seeing the lake, and for safety reasons, their grandchildren needed watching on the beach.

"I've conformed to the rules but this makes it worse," he complained of the board's suggestions. "This protects an awful lot. It seems to me that we all end up worse off than we could or should."

The couple had initially proposed removing a guesthouse but then learned it had historical significance and withdrew that item from the variance request.

BOA member Ken Grob said the guest cabin would be considered nonetheless, as variances run with the land.

Grob said he had difficulty with the board "perpetuating a nonconforming condition" on the property, allowing a residence within the shore impact zone.

Member Charlene Christenson agreed. More than once she told the couple, "You have ample property" to make the new structure conforming.

That was the recommendation of the Environmental Services Office, too, which urged denial of the variance.

Grob made one last attempt to get the couple's request into compliance. He asked them to tear down the guest cabin. Two guest cabins sit on an adjacent lot approved in a 2007 variance. But neither lot had the required 225-foot width to accommodate such density.


"I guess I didn't expect this," Gary Schiess said to the objections, refusing to tear down the historic cabin.

He finally cut off the discussions and asked "for a straight up and down vote."

The board meticulously picked through each finding of fact, agreeing 3-2 on the more contentious questions. Each is integral in granting a variance.

In the end, the same 3-2 majority, Tim Johnson, Tom Krueger and Arnold Christianson, voted in favor of the variance, with Krueger pointing out that "not seeing your grandchildren on the beach isn't a hardship" that merits a variance.

Grob and Christenson voted against the variance.

Gary Schiess was overcome with relief. But he stayed to listen to the last variance request, an after-the-fact request by Dick and Janice Olson of Grand Forks, who remodeled a rotting porch and a side deck on their Lake Belle Taine home.

Dick Olson said he'd researched the Shoreland Management Ordinances and was under the impression he could "repair or replace" the porch for liability reasons without a building permit or variance.

"We put it in solely for safety's sake," Dick Olson told the board.


But the original structure was built by a variance, so any modifications require another variance under the rules.

"We did not intend in any way to violate the ordinance," Olson said.

Grob wasn't satisfied and asked the couple why they didn't apply for a variance.

"This has been more grief than my wife and I need," Olson replied. "I can't provide you with any answer."

In the end the board approved the request and praised the Olsons for the changes.

In other action, the board:

n Approved a request by Ken and Susan Jost to change the roof on their Third Crow Wing Lake cabin. The Josts had been granted a variance in December to add an addition to the non-lakeside portion of the home. At the time, the couple proposed a roof that ran parallel to the shoreline.

The new request sought to change the roof pitch and run the ridge perpendicular to the lake.


The request sailed through the board.

n Approved a request by Thomas Corder's builder to amend a deck construction design on a Fish Hook Lake cabin. The request was granted because neither addition proposed would encroach closer to the lake.

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