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Appeal prompts county to reconsider approval of housing development

The decision to send the matter back to the Planning Commission came after commissioners met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the pending litigation, first initiated in October. The resolution notes the county received new information about developer B-Dirt Construction’s compliance with requirements relevant to the approvals, prompting the reconsideration.

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The Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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BRAINERD — The Crow Wing County Board reversed course on its approval of a controversial Horseshoe Lake housing development Tuesday, March 8, after the lake association appealed in court.

The decision to send the matter back to the Planning Commission came after commissioners met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the pending litigation, first initiated in October. The resolution notes the county received new information about developer B-Dirt Construction’s compliance with requirements relevant to the approvals, prompting the reconsideration.

“Reconsidering the decisions to approve the preliminary and final plats will allow the County to properly address any deficiencies, and make appropriate findings to allow meaningful judicial review,” the resolution stated.

082521.N.BD.HideawayMap.jpg
A blueprint shows the proposed layout of a housing subdivision on Horseshoe Lake in Mission Township.
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Specifics on B-Dirt’s lack of compliance were not outlined by the board in its resolution. The Planning Commission is directed to prepare findings in support of the approval of the plats, provided B-Dirt satisfies ordinance requirements. Then, the board is expected to reach a final decision on the plats with the new findings. B-Dirt is in agreement with the board’s decision to reconsider its approvals, the resolution noted.

In August 2021, the County Board gave the go-ahead on a 4-1 vote for a subdivision known as Hideaway Bay against the headwinds of stiff opposition in hundreds of public opinions on record and a recommendation of denial from the Planning Commission.

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Those opposed — which included the Horseshoe Lake Property Owners Association and the Mission Township Board — argued the project posed threats to the lake’s water quality, would infringe on the enjoyment of existing neighbors’ properties, lead to increased traffic safety concerns and negatively affect the rural character of Mission Township in opposition to the community’s comprehensive plan.

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The development would convert two existing lots into a subdivision including 14 residential lots, an association building and two storage unit buildings with eight units each. The proposed project is a conservation development, meaning it’s subject to more specific requirements preserving common open space while maintaining or restoring natural features on the property. Meeting the designation also permits cluster developments in locations where they might normally fall outside of what the county land use ordinance allows.

Bob Steele, Mission Township supervisor, told commissioners in August the township residents twice affirmed their desire to prevent cluster developments along lakeshore property, a desire outlined in the comprehensive plan. He said this is reflected in the township’s motto, “A Quiet Place To Be.”

Representatives of the developer, meanwhile, argued the final version of the project fell neatly within county ordinance without requiring conditional use permits or variances. In some cases, the project went above and beyond requirements, they noted, such as locating the housing units farther from shore than necessary, installing the most advanced septic system available and providing better environmental protection and more rigorous requirements than traditional single family development.

Following the July denial recommendation by the Planning Commission, a number of changes were made to the proposal, including widening the private road by 6 feet and placing further restrictions on the storage units to prevent commercial operation from the site.

After the board approved the final plat in September, the lake association appealed the decision in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, naming Crow Wing County as well as B-Dirt Construction and Tracts, another company associated with B-Dirt. The appeal argues the board’s decision to approve the plats was “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, erroneous as a matter of law, oppressive, and not supported by substantial evidence in the record.”

In its initial response to the appeal, which is ongoing, the county said the board approved the development “based on a substantial and legally sufficient basis, it explained how it derived its conclusion, and its decision was reasonably based on the facts in the record supporting its conclusion.”

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARDHOUSING
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 chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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