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Shoreland variance denied after lake residents express opposition

A Big Mantrap Lake resort owners' variance request to significantly increase the number and size of structures was denied by the Board of Adjustment Monday.

Frank Hoffman
Norway Hills owners Frank Hoffman (in orange cap) and Patricia, to his right, led a tour of their resort for the Board of Adjustment last week. Board members tour all requests for variances. (Enterprise photo)

A Big Mantrap Lake resort owners' variance request to significantly increase the number and size of structures was denied by the Board of Adjustment Monday.

Norway Hills owners Frank and Patricia Hoffman were seeking a shoreland ordinance variance to increase the size of six existing cabins by more than 50 percent, one of which is a non-conforming structure located on a bluff.

The Hoffmans were proposing construction of a new cabin at a 78.5-foot setback, instead of the required 100 feet. And they asked for a variance to build 15 cabins, exceeding the maximum allowed rental unit density by 10 units. Part of these new cabins would be second tier development, which traditionally has been discouraged.

The proposal for development on the west arm of the recreational development lake met strong opposition from lake residents, Environmental Services administrator Eric Buitenwerf reading 18 letters opposing the measure.

Word spread via "pipeline." Fellow lake residents notified the majority of the respondents of the variance application. Many expressed concern a PUD (planned unit development) may be in the offing.

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A single letter in support of the proposal arrived from Courtney Campbell III, who noted resorts are "the lifeblood of Park Rapids and Hubbard County," providing revenue for a variety of area businesses.

Lake residents fear negative environmental ramifications to the lake considered "a fragile ecosystem, one of Minnesota's last wilderness areas."

"The board would set a dangerous precedent in granting even a fraction of this request," wrote Sarah Smith, whose family owns contiguous property.

The access road to the resort, located on Smith family property, is built over a federally protected wetland.

Smith stated the road could not withstand the added traffic 15 more structures would bring.

"We would not agree to grant them continued access for the added traffic," she stated in a letter.

Environmental Services provided density calculations for the proposal and informed the Hoffmans the proposal "was in excess of what's allowed in terms of density," Buitenwerf said.

But the Hoffmans argued Monday the proposal is not "over density."

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"All we're asking for is three-bedroom cabins in order to exist as a resort," Pat Hoffman said, stating the resort's smaller cabins remain vacant.

"I look at this as a massive project, over what would be considered," board chair Lou Schwindt stated. "It sounds to me like you need to recalculate," he said of the two-tiered cabin proposal.

"Evidently it's wrong to lay out plans for the future," Pat Hoffman remarked.

"If this variance is approved," Bob Remund told the board, "you would have no basis to deny a similar variance for Mantrap Lodge. Cumulatively, you could double the population of the lake."

Douglas and Catherine Fielder expressed similar concerns: "Granting a request for over-development of this magnitude may represent a future threat to all Hubbard County lakes."

"This area of Mantrap is too heavily populated now," 50-year lake property owner Marge Stell wrote.

"We fail to see what hardship could be identified as the necessary basis for such a variance," Tom and Sheryl Barta wrote.

Construction of new units would increase the amount of impervious surface, thereby increasing the potential for erosion and runoff, the Bartas pointed out. More people using the lake "inevitably mean more pollution of all kinds, and a greater possibility for introduction of invasive species by 'visiting' watercraft," the Bartas wrote.

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Charles and Lorraine Gabbert noted water samples analyzed over the past 10 years show a decline in water quality.

"This decline in the water quality on the lake makes it even more imperative that variances of this magnitude not be granted on Big Mantrap Lake," the Gabberts wrote.

Robert and Sandra Shoffner, who are located across from Norway Hills, reported witnessing over the past 40 years the "diminution of wildlife, degradation of shoreline and native plants, shoreline and beach erosion by ever more powerful and numerous boats ... Surely this small area of the lake has reached its carrying capacity."

"We cannot allow a village to sprout on a piece of property that has housed nine seasonal cabins," adjoining property owner Ruth Smith remarked.

Helen Marsh expressed a similar sentiment: "One dock and some small resort cottages is one thing we can live with, but not turning the area into an eventual lakefront housing development."

Most short-term visitors staying at resorts "have no vested interest in the lake," Mark and Patricia Van Horne stated.

Judith Hansen expressed concern at the meeting that the "overwhelming" proposal would be scaled back and a compromise reached.

"We also wonder why the county feels it should spend taxpayer dollars to even consider such outrageous variances to existing ordinances. The cost of viewings, hearings, printing of notices, etc. is a waste of time and money," she and husband Albert stated in a letter.

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By unanimous vote, the board voted to deny the variance application, citing findings of fact. The proposal is "a substantial variation from zoning ordinance requirements, will have an adverse effect on government services (the roadway) and will be a substantial detriment to neighborhood."

The board suggested feasible alternatives include enlarging existing cabins or "leave the resort as is."

"We are not opposed to adding on to the cabins," Schwindt said. "The ordinance just doesn't allow this proposition."

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