A zoning change requested by a South Long Lake resort drew significant attention from citizens both in favor and against, but did not prompt county board discussion before unanimous approval.
The land use change, sought by owners of The Harbor on Crescent Bay, was one of two steps taken to make way for a commercial storage area near the resort property on County Highway 23. While commercial storage sites are not allowed on properties zoned as shoreland district, Crow Wing County’s zoning ordinance does allow this use on waterfront commercial properties with a conditional use permit.
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Owners Josh Young and Robert Young gained approval for the permit from the planning commission/board of adjustment in mid-December. The commission also unanimously recommended the county board approve the requested amendment to the land use map, which it did on Dec. 29. Neither decision, however, went without extensive input from the public. Environmental services supervisor Jake Frie reported the county received more than 70 comments, split down the middle in terms of those in favor or against the proposal.
Those supportive of the Youngs’ request praised their management of the resort, some pointing out significant improvements from previous ownership in guest behavior and land stewardship. Several of those in support are summer residents at The Harbor on Crescent Bay and reported storage is badly needed for guests and public alike.
Those who expressed concerns over the application cited potential harm to the marshy shoreline along the parcels in question, which they said could lead to environmental degradation and reduced water quality. Others wondered whether the changes would be stepping stones to more ambitious development or expansion of the resort property. Among the comments in opposition were those from the Upper South Long Lake Improvement District as well as the Maple Grove Township Board.
Marco and Kathy Harroun, who said they’ve camped at the resort for eight years, noted the community is excited about the potential for a new storage area.
“We are in desperate need of additional space for storage, and would love better access to the upper lake (rather than the public access),” the Harrouns’ comment stated. “While the plans for this are still very fluid, the chatter within the resort has been very positive.”
Bonnie Jaehning and Robert Welcher, also seasonal residents of the resort, said they wrote in because they’d heard of the lack of support from some in the area.
“We believe the Harbor on Crescent Bay Resort and its owners, the Young family, are a valuable asset to the community,” their comment stated. “We find them to be very respectful of the beauty of the lakes and natural resources in the area. They are true guardians of these resources as well as the summer residents of the resort.”
On the other hand, Ruth Naber, president of the lake improvement district, said the owners knew the zoning when they purchased the property and could develop within those parameters. “It is easy for them to say that they would stick with their current plan of a few storage units and a nature trail, but plans could change later if rezoning is allowed,” Naber wrote. “We hope that Planning and Zoning will consider this and the effect the development could have on the lake with the adjacent wetland and the shallow water in that region of the lake being environmentally fragile as well as important to both aquatic organisms and waterfowl.”
Longtime lake property owners Bruce and Joan Dybvig said their opposition stemmed from fear the rezoning would lead to future development into a marina or trailer park, similar to the changes they’d made at the current resort property, or even a new resort.
“Based on the lake shore of this parcel, any of these potential future uses would have devastating negative impacts to Upper South Long Lake … wetlands, wildlife, shoreline weed preservation, even the lake fishery, just to name a few,” Bruce Dybvig wrote.
Despite anxiety about future plans, the request at issue did not involve any docking, paths or disruption near the shoreline, according to county officials, and any future requests would require another public hearing to amend the conditional use permit. Instead, it involved outdoor storage only with no commercial buildings or structures. A planned gravel loop driveway would increase impervious surface from 0% to 6.78%.
During the virtual planning commission meeting — which drew as many as 70 attendees at one time — one of the applicants responded to some of the criticism and concerns.
The applicant said as shoreline owners they also care about the natural environment, which is one of the reasons they’ve installed a “state of the art” compliant septic system at the resort. He noted the importance of the wetlands and bulrushes to the health of the lake and said they plan to leave all vegetation in place. He said he is often in contact with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to receive guidance on best practices for shoreline management and will continue to be.
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In its findings of fact, the planning commission agreed the reclassification complied with the goals of the county’s comprehensive plan, particularly its encouragement of a diverse business mix and enhancements to tourism and quality of life for residents.
“One such strategy of doing this is to retain existing resorts; assist them with expansion and improvement to allow them to meet growing needs in a manner that doesn’t degrade natural resources,” the findings stated.
The commission also found the facts supported granting the conditional use permit, noting an approved stormwater management plan would be required and would mitigate environmental impact. The permit requires the storage area also be screened from residential areas, with reiteration any resort expansion would require a separate public hearing and approval process.