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Proposed group home raises concerns in Nokay Lake

Nokay Lake Township residents, unsettled by plan for a state group home on Pickeral Lake Road, will have a chance to hear from the state Tuesday.

Crow Wing County is facilitating an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Crow Wing County Board Room, 326 Laurel St. in Brainerd. The board room is on the third floor of the historic courthouse. Roger Deneen, an official with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), is expected to provide information and answer questions during the forum.

Kathy Stevens, who has a day care nearby and is a Nokay Lake Township supervisor, said the township was never notified of the group home plan.

“We’re quite upset,” Stevens said. “We can’t get any answers from the county.”

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl also expressed frustration after receiving calls from concerned residents and being unable to allay their fears because he had no knowledge of the project.

“I was very frustrated by it being the fact we didn’t know anything,” Dahl said. “I think communication with our public is very important. It gets pretty frustrating as safety for our residents is our No. 1 priority. In my own personal and professional opinion, it was not right.”

The proposed location is currently being remodeled and Dahl said the state is involved in training at the site. County officials were unaware of any time line when the proposed group home could be operational. Dahl said he is still unclear on who the proposed residents are and those answers would be good to know in the event law enforcement was called to the scene or in an event of a walk-away from the facility.

Stevens said a concern for her came in placing the facility in the rural setting, creating a longer response time if there was an incident.

Mark Liedl, Crow Wing County acting community services director, reported he asked the state the same question about the type of residents and was told they were not coming from the corrections system.

The residential group home is reportedly planned to house one to four disabled adults with mental and/or physical disabilities. Tim Houle, Crow Wing County administrator, said because of the group home size with four people or fewer, it doesn’t need special zoning requirements and notification of neighbors is not a requirement for DHS. Houle said the group home is not the county’s but they are facilitating a meeting with the DHS staff and township residents. There was concern the meeting was coming up too quickly to notify everyone, but Houle said because it is a staff meeting and not an official public body session he did not believe a three-day meeting notice before the session was needed. The quick turnaround for the meeting came with the DHS ability to attend and to answer residents’ questions as quickly as possible. The county knew about the group home as long ago as February when staff was asked to comment on licensing the adult care facility. Houle said then Community Services Director Beth Wilms wrote a letter of support for the group home to the state. But there wasn’t an indication if she was aware of a location or the types of people who would be living there other than adult foster care. Houle said his understanding is the people may need more intense supervision with traumatic brain injuries and developmental disabilities, but the county has unanswered questions as well. Emergency response time was one area to be evaluated.

Placement of the group home does require county consent if it happens before Aug. 1, Houle said. After that, changes at the state mean the county no longer will have that option.

“There are concerns by neighbors,” Houle said. “They are expressing that concern very loudly.”

Houle said resident concerns deserve a good hearing.

“That’s why we are trying so hard to get information to them as quickly as we can,” he said. “It’s not a county run foster home, it’s a state run facility.”

The county issued a news release Friday afternoon saying: “The state is planning to locate a residential group home for one to four disabled adults in Nokay Lake Township at 20124 Pickeral Lake Road. The residence is slated to serve adults with mental and/or physical disabilities who are in need of assisted care in a residential setting. According to DHS Officials, the department’s move to establish the home is a result of a directive from the state Legislature to provide such care options in response to the closing of the state hospital in Brainerd,” the county reported.

Additional information may be obtained from the Minnesota State Operated Services by contacting Roger Deneen at (651)766-4114 or

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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