Crow Wing County Board: Cragun's plans new golf course, housing

A planned development including a new 18-hole golf course and nearly 40 housing units proposed by Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake will not require an environmental impact statement.

A planned development including a new 18-hole golf course and nearly 40 housing units proposed by Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake will not require an environmental impact statement.

The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday followed staff recommendation and concluded the environmental assessment worksheet process gathered enough information concerning potential environmental impacts of the 400-acre plan. Most of the planned development is located within Unorganized Territory, with a small portion in the city of East Gull Lake in Cass County.

"The project does not have the potential for significant environmental effects," a resolution approved by the board stated. "All environmental issues raised during the EAW (environmental assessment worksheet) process of which Cragun's has control over have been addressed or will be addressed during the permit process."

Per state law, if a development is set to clear more than 40 acres of forest, the environmental assessment process must determine if further environmental study is needed prior to the issuance of permits or the beginning of construction.

Chris Pence, Crow Wing County division manager for environmental services, told the board the county received comments from six state agencies during the comment period, although much of the feedback received would be addressed later in the permitting process.


In the draft resolution prepared by staff, declaring further environmental study through the EIS process was not needed, a number of findings were listed to support that view.

Although the development would require tree removal, previous storm damage to the property necessitated much of the tree removal in the area anyway, the resolution stated. Potential impacts to wetlands on the site would be minimal, the findings concluded, and boardwalks would be used in the golf course when necessary. No impacts to public waters-including the nearby Gull River-were expected as part of the development.

One threatened species is known to be present on the site-the Blanding's turtle-along with two identified eagles' nests.

"Cragun's plans to require their contractors to post signs advising workers that these turtles may be present in the area, and utilize wildlife friendly erosion control products during construction," the resolution stated.

The proposed residential development, including 31 clustered residential units and eight single-family units, would follow a conservation design allowing for fewer, larger lots. An archaeological survey of the property was conducted in 1999, concluding at the time it had no historical significance.

Some of the land slated for development was originally tax-forfeited and was sold to Cragun's in 2015, Pence said. Because the property in question contained more than 150 feet of frontage on the Gull River, its sale required special legislation and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approval, which was granted in 2014. The legislation required direct sale to an adjacent property owner, and in a sealed bid process, Cragun's offered the most for the property, Pence said.

Questions raised on nearby development

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen asked Pence about a property also under development next door to the planned Cragun's golf course and housing units. She said a group of 60 neighboring property owners submitted a letter to the planning commission, raising concerns about the potential impact of six proposed duplex units known as the "Sanctuary."


Franzen asked Pence why the letter wasn't included in the commissioners' packet, given it mentions the Cragun's project. Pence said the letter was not received as part of the official commenting process.

"I received one phone call from the general public having questions about the EAW," Pence said. "They wanted to know who they could talk to about purchasing a lot (at Cragun's)."

Pence said these were two separate parcels, and although an environmental assessment worksheet was required on the Cragun's development, the nearby duplex proposal did not meet the threshold outlined in state law. Pence said should those concerned gather 100 signatures on a petition, it would require the county board to consider implementing the environmental assessment process for that property as well.

The Crow Wing County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment evaluated the "Sanctuary" proposal at its July 20 meeting, including a requested amendment to the land use map, a preliminary plat application and requests for a variance and conditional use permit.

The 10-page letter signed by 60 neighbors addresses a multitude of concerns with the proposal. While stating the group is not opposed to "proper development of the land," the letter makes the case the development is inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan and has a serious impact on the rural, forested nature of the property.

"The 'Sanctuary,' when taken in conjunction with the proposed Cragun's golf course and building projects to the west, are a massive increase in development for Unorganized Territory and the Gull River Watercourse," the letter stated. "There is currently 57 new residential units proposed for construction within less than a mile stretch of (County Highway) 77, with building densities exceeding one unit per acre. This rapid development demands scrutiny to ensure it is done wisely, preserving the existing green space, rural character and environmental health of this area for the current and future generations."

The letter goes on to state the development is disruptive to the character of the neighborhood around County Highway 77, also known as Pine Beach Road, and Miles Circle.

"The proposed plat not only changes the essential character of the area from rural to suburban, it does so in the most disruptive way possible for the existing residents," the letter stated. "Neighboring properties have backed up to the forest provided by this property for over 35 years. House and yard placements were made according to this layout."


Despite plans for the "Sanctuary" development, the resolution approved by the board Tuesday stated "no other known current or proposed projects in the vicinity of the project site ... would contribute towards cumulative potential effects."

County Administrator Tim Houle told the board it should consider the merits of whether to complete an environmental impact statement on the Cragun's proposal alone.

"Any other parcel has to go through its own process, its own public hearing," Houle said. "I'm not sure why they would not have used the comment period that was specifically designed for the purpose of soliciting comments ... That's confusing to me."

"That's not uncommon," Franzen responded. "People always come to the meeting, thinking being heard personally is better than just mailing a letter."

Commissioner Paul Koering asked whether the residents' concerns with the adjacent development was a similar situation to one in 2013, when the board received a petition requesting an environmental assessment worksheet for a development planned at Trout Lake Camp. Pence said the board was sued over its decision not to grant an EAW, but the development eventually proceeded.

"I think we always tread on dangerous ground when we try to compare two different projects," Commissioner Paul Thiede said. "The same opportunities exist for anyone who would oppose this decision. ... They can go as they did up there and raise funds and file a suit against us."

Houle said while the process concerning the Trout Lake Camp issue was similar, taking that property into account was inappropriate in drawing a conclusion concerning the Cragun's property or the adjacent proposed development.

"Each of those circumstances must be considered on their own merits," Houle said.


In a roll call vote, commissioners voted 4-1 in support of the resolution to proceed without an environmental impact statement, with Franzen opposed. The next step is for the Cragun's development to proceed through the permitting process.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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