More houses set for Horseshoe Lake following development approval in face of opposition
Opponents said the development posed threats to the water quality of Horseshoe Lake, 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. 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 goes above and beyond requirements, they noted.
Defying the recommendation of the planning commission and acting contrary to hundreds of public opinions on record, the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Aug. 24, gave the go-ahead for a housing development on Horseshoe Lake in Mission Township.
The 4-1 decision resulted in approval of a preliminary plat for a subdivision dubbed Hideaway Bay, which will convert two existing lots into a subdivision including 14 residential lots, an association building and two storage unit buildings with eight units each.
The B-Dirt Construction 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.
Before considering the plat, however, county commissioners first took up the issue of whether they would require an environmental assessment worksheet for the project, an exercise prompted by a citizen petition garnering 259 signatures. Environmental assessment worksheets guide planning officials in determining whether an environmental impact statement is required for a given project, which prompts deeper study into potentially adverse effects while offering less impactful alternatives.
A motion to require an environmental assessment worksheet, brought by Commissioner Bill Brekken against land services staff recommendations, died for lack of a second. Citing “compelling information” brought forward during public testimony, Brekken also brought a motion to deny approval of the preliminary plat, which again died for lack of a second. Brekken, who represents Mission Township on the county board, was ultimately the lone vote in opposition to the development.
Many of those seeking the environmental assessment also counted themselves among residents generally opposed to the project, which they said posed threats to the water quality of Horseshoe Lake, 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. Notably, both the Horseshoe Lake Property Owners Association and the Mission Township Board did not support the housing development, while Mission Fire and Rescue also expressed concerns about potential problems with access to the properties in the event of a fire.
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 goes 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.
“I know that there’s a lot of feelings on this matter. We have to go by what our ordinance says,” said Chairman Steve Barrows following the split vote. “ … We make ordinances based on countywide, not on individual townships. The comprehensive plan is simply a guiding tool. Even our own is a guiding tool for us, but our ordinance is what we must follow.”
Commissioner Paul Koering pointed to his support of property rights in voting to approve the plat.
“We need to be careful about asking government to put too much of a squeeze on private property, because it really is your private property,” Koering said.
‘A quiet place to be’
A parade of speakers stepped to the microphone to implore the board to prevent the development. Among them was Crosslake Police Chief Erik Lee, whose concerns touched on his role as chief but also the fact his family lives near the proposed site. Lee said the development driveway’s placement at the bottom of a hill presented traffic safety problems on a township road with a 55 mph speed limit. He said with the housing association allowing residents to rent out their properties for a minimum of 30 days up to four times annually, he would have up to 56 new neighbors each year, all of whom have the potential to negatively impact those surrounding them.
“Who’s to say once all the property is bought up, the association decides they’re going to go into short term rental?” Lee said. “They can change the covenants. … I don’t want to live in my retirement being the one calling the sheriff’s department all the time.”
Bob Steele, Mission Township supervisor, said East Horseshoe Lake Road is already in tough shape and among the roads the township intends to improve. Adding traffic pressure right now would speed up the degradation of the road, he noted, and force the township to act sooner at a cost to residents. Beyond the road considerations, Steele pointed out township residents have 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.”
“This density is not wanted by residents of Mission Township,” Steele said. “ … Please hear Mission Township residents saying they do not want cluster development abutting lakeshore.”
Several residents shared the belief the developer sought the conservation development model not with the environment in mind, but because it offered the opportunity to pack more housing into a smaller space than an administrative subdivision would. Kristin Galatowitsch said while the development might meet the concrete requirements of the county’s land use ordinance, there are subjective considerations for the board to weigh that ultimately reflect why the board decides on such applications in the first place.
“You have more than just the numbers to look at,” Galatowitsch said. “You have other criteria you are authorized to use. … That’s what you’re charged with deciding here today. Otherwise it would just be an administrative plat.”
This criteria, she said, included whether the development fits the character of the surrounding neighborhood, a feature she noted the county’s appointed planning commission found the development did not meet.
Jeanette Leete, a Horseshoe Lake resident who noted her background in hydrogeology and fieldwork on Crow Wing County’s geologic atlas, said the lake’s status as a closed basin lake meant there should be special considerations for its water quality that are not present at lakes with inlets and/or outlets.
“Standard protections are not adequate for this lake,” said Leete, who added allowing this development now would set a standard for the future that could ultimately lead to many more multi-unit developments with an even greater collective impact on water quality.
Above and beyond
Joe Ranweiler, an owner of B-Dirt, provided counterpoints to a number of the issues brought up by concerned neighbors. He noted the closest any building would be to the lake was 267 feet, nearly three times the distance of 100 feet required. In addition to protection of a number of trees on the property, Ranweiler noted the plat included designated “no mow” zones and a number of other features designed to provide with water quality in mind.
Concerns about short term vacation rentals were unfounded, Ranweiler noted, given the fact the association would not permit rentals for shorter than 30 days at a time. To overturn this requirement would take a two-thirds majority of homeowners, a high threshold.
“We’ve done a number of them (developments) in Crow Wing County and we’re following through with what we’ve said,” Ranweiler said. “Every one of those developments have turned out fantastic. I think that this meets or exceeds the ordinance, and we should be allowed to develop property in accordance with something and I believe we’ve done that.”
Surveyor Paul Herkenhoff and wetland delineator Mitch Brinks, both of whom worked on the project, also offered supportive comments. Herkenhoff noted with the project covering close to 15 acres, this averaged to more than 1 acre per dwelling unit, which is a larger area per residence than single family development. Brinks said he felt the stormwater and septic plans were well managed on the project.
“That (septic) system they’re proposing is state of the art,” Brinks said. “With the AdvanTex system, you could pretty much drink the water.”
Given the go-ahead
Because the board voted against the recommendation of the planning commission, commissioners were required to agree to new findings of fact in support of the preliminary plat. Allowing time for staff to prepare those findings meant pushing the decision to later in the meeting. Appearing to sense the direction the board was headed when Brekken’s motion died, dozens of disappointed residents shuffled out of the boardroom before the final decision.
With county board approval, B-Dirt may now proceed with building the subdivision as proposed.
CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .