Dan Leagjeld will continue operating his dredging business, but objectors of his request to amend the Crow Wing County land use map to allow it were not celebrating.
The Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners approved at its Tuesday, July 9, meeting Leagjeld’s petition to amend the map from “shoreland district” to “waterfront commercial” for three lots involving about 8.7 acres in Ideal Township.
“The township did recommend approval of this zoning change … and the planning commission did recommend approval of this at its last meeting,” said Jake Frie, county environmental services supervisor.
Leagjeld’s parents previously owned the Driftwood Resort on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and he came before the Crow Wing County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment on June 20 with three requests for property he bought from his parents after the resort closed in 2009.
“My concern is this: We turn this into a commercial property and the CUP (conditional use permit) follows the property, so should Mr. Leagjeld sell this property it’s going to continue to be commercial, and some other ventures could be developed on that piece of property -- correct?” Commissioner Steve Barrows asked Frie.
Frie replied regarding the permit allowing dredging and stockpiling, and houseboat business: “Yes. … A conditional use permit doesn’t stop with the property owner. It’s a perpetual use that’s allowed.”
Leagjeld does not own the houseboats at his property but allows the private owners to dock them there, as they have been for nearly 30 years -- beginning when the resort was in operation -- without a complaint. The permit would allow rental of houseboat docking facilities and spaces.
The conditional use permit would allow Leagjeld to construct a private concrete ramp to use as a lake access for his dredging business. In the past, dredging operations have used the public boat access, which Leagjeld has said is a hindrance to the public when lake users have to wait.
“There has been some things where the option for the land use map amendment was presented as being a recommendation from the DNR. That’s not necessarily true,” said Heidi Lindgren, a DNR area hydrologist. “This was one option presented to Mr. Leagjeld after an unpermitted, illegal ramp was discovered on his property a couple of years ago. This is just one option of several that were presented, including not having a ramp or working with the public water accesses.”
Steve Curry is the president of the Friends of Lower Hay Lake Association. He also spoke against the land use map amendment and shared his thoughts with the commissioners.
“We are concerned about the past behavior of this business. The DNR has told him to stop his business activities, so he’s looking for approval from the county to do what he has been doing illegally for years,” Curry said.
The land in question was originally zoned waterfront commercial during the operation of Driftwood Resort from 1959-2009. After it closed, the property was rezoned to shoreland residential when Leagjeld bought the property from his parents.
Leagjeld’s rezoning request would allow him to continue operating his ongoing dredging operations on the southwest side of Upper Whitefish Lake. Four years ago, Leagjeld took over operations of Mini-Dredge Inc., a company that has served the Whitefish Chain since 1976.
“To change residential property to commercial property makes a change that takes one of Crow Wing County’s mottos -- to protect our waters and trees -- and ignores it,” Curry said. “This was a business that did not ask for permission (to operate), but now they’re asking for forgiveness.”
A petition with several signatures from the Friends of Lower Hay Lake Association claimed the rezoning of Leagjeld’s land would permanently change the character of Lower Hay Lake, which is connected to Whitefish Lake.
Nancy Nordberg, a seasonal Ideal Township resident, went against the tide of objections to the land use map amendment and spoke at the board meeting in support of the amendment.
“That seems very counterintuitive, I think, to all the people that are in opposition to this -- maybe even counterintuitive to you and to me because I’m the person that sits there in the bay, and I watch the loons, I watch the eagles … and I do a lot of kayaking around there, a lot of paddleboarding and a lot of bird-watching,” Nordberg said.
Nordberg told the commissioners she lives adjacent to the former site of Mini-Dredge Inc. and found it unobtrusive and secluded from public view.
“The reason why I want it to go to commercial is because I believe that it’s the very best way to protect that secluded bay, because what Dan wants to do with this is keep it exactly the way that it’s been … because he doesn’t want to put up six houses that he could,” Nordberg said.
Other Driftwood Resort property was recently the subject of debate, when the board denied a rezoning request for 7.3 acres to redevelop the resort, despite planning commission approval. The board cited water quality concerns and a change in the character of the area for the denial.
“I feel that we’ve been very good stewards of the land. We haven’t raped it. We haven’t done anything to make it ugly to the public, etc.,” said Leagjeld, who claimed 10 out of 14 area property owners have signed a statement expressing their support of his amendment request.
Commissioner Bill Brekken said, “I’d like to say that I do support what Dan is looking at doing. This has been an existing business since it’s been there, and so I want to continue to kind of support what the benefits to the lake that that brings.”
Commissioner Doug Houge made the motion to amend the county land use map involving Leagjeld’s property and change it from “shoreland district” to “waterfront commercial.” Brekken seconded Houge’s motion, and it was approved in spite of the lone dissenting vote by Barrows.