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Decision delayed on land use ordinance

The Crow Wing County Board voted Tuesday to delay a decision on land use ordinance revisions for two weeks. 

The board took comments from the public and met on the issue for more than three hours. At the end, the board split 3-2 on the vote with Commissioners Phil Trusty and Doug Houge voting against waiting as both said they felt they could vote on the issue Tuesday. 

The board heard from people for and against the land use zoning changes. Controversial issues continued to be impervious surface, vegetation buffers, lot sizes and a one-time expansion option. The gallery was full for the discussion with many residents taking the time to speak to the board. 

Critics called the move an over-reach of government that infringed on property owners rights and one they said would cause economic harm, particularly to real estate agents and builders. Those in favor of the changes spoke of protecting the lakes as an economic asset, which bring in tourists and makes the area a desirable place to  build and live. 

“We’re at equilibrium between balancing property rights and getting a better understandable ordinance and getting better water quality for the future,” said Jim Brandt of Pine River. 

“I still say shame on you,” said Sue Moline, Lake Shore. Moline told the board they should be having the conversation when more seasonal residents could be here. Moline said the proposed changes were frightening and will hurt builders and people without a lot of money. 

It took a few motions to determine the outcome. At first Trusty and Houge voted to deny the ordinance as written. Houge suggested striking out a 500-square-foot limit, saying removing that requirement offered more opportunity to builders. Trusty favored a suggested change to use the direction of the water flow to determine if a property on two water bodies should use the more restrictive land use — be it a natural environment or general development lake. 

The board agreed to a four-year phase out of the one-time 50 percent expansion option for nonconforming structures built before 1970. In the past two years, the county has had nine requests for the one-time expansion. Trusty said he didn’t support the expansion as the state tells the county it is illegal but he understood the argument it may be a bad time to eliminate it and perhaps the phase-out could be extended to allow the economy to recover. 

As for making a zoning or land use decision based on which direction the water flows off the land suggested by Brainerd attorney Tom Fitzpatrick, staff members said they could handle the shift administratively. On a riparian lot that abutted two differing lake standards, the county was planning to use the more restrictive of the two. 

Administrator Tim Houle said if the board voted to deny the ordinance the commissioners would have to start the entire process over, but if they had modifications they could table it and give staff direction on changes. With that, Trusty and Houge withdrew their motion but both said they felt the changes could be made and the board could still vote Tuesday. 

Chairman Paul Thiede favored waiting until the board meets again on March 22. After more discussion, Commissioner Rosemary Franzen made the motion in favor of waiting, supported by Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom. 

“This is a very important document I don’t think two weeks more, other than the phone calls we get, will hurt us at all,” Franzen said. 

Houge said he sees the changes as improving property rights from the current ordinance. 

“I also see it as a protection of our natural resources,” Houge said. “This is saving jobs for this community.”

Thiede noted the public hearing process was completed with Tuesday’s session and reminded people the variance process is still in place. 

Franzen said she believed the changes were giving property rights back to people as most of the county’s current zoning has a limit of 15 percent for impervious surface — the maximum allowed for such areas a rooftops and pavement — with increased runoff and concern more pollutants are carried into the lake. In the ordinance revisions, the county allowed an increase to 20-25 percent impervious with a stormwater plan and buffer. 

“I appreciate everybody who took the time to call us and e-mail us and to show up at the meetings and perhaps it’s not ideal, but you can see your comments had an impact,”  Nystrom said. “Things are changed in this ordinance because of the voice you had. We heard you. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it used to be.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.