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More housing on tap near Merrifield with subdivision approved

The approximately 40-acre parcel was once zoned for 10-acre rural residential lots before a zoning change reduced the possible lot sizes to 2.5 acres. Each of the 14 lots is 2.5 acres or slightly larger.

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A drawing shows a proposed housing development on Kennedy Road east of County Highway 3. The development gained county board approval during a Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, meeting. Contributed / Crow Wing County
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A new 14-lot housing subdivision slated for the area just south of Merrifield gained Crow Wing County Board approval Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Preliminary and final plats for Kennedy Woods, a conservation development planned by Westin Properties LLC, passed by 4-0 votes with Commissioner Bill Brekken abstaining because of his professional real estate ties to the project. The neighborhood is set to be placed along a private extension of Kennedy Road south of The Woods event center on County Highway 3, directly east of a 45-unit storage unit facility currently under construction by the same developer .

Environmental services supervisor Jake Frie briefed commissioners on the project, which was unanimously recommended by the county planning commission/board of adjustment for approval. Frie explained the approximately 40-acre parcel was once zoned for 10-acre rural residential parcels before a zoning change reduced the possible lot sizes to 2.5 acres. Each of the 14 lots is 2.5 acres or slightly larger.

The development as proposed falls within the conservation development designation, 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.

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Crow Wing County environmental services supervisor Jake Frie shares information about a proposed housing development Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, with the county board. The subdivision south of Merrifield gained board approval. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

While the motions to approve the preliminary and final plats passed with minimal discussion by the county board, commissioners did seek to ensure the planned private road would not ultimately become a liability for the government and residents. The Crow Wing County Board serves as the township board for the First Assessment District, also known as Unorganized Territory, which is the jurisdiction within which the development would be built.

Frie assured commissioners specific conditions placed on the plat required the developer and housing association would be responsible for upgrading the road to highway department standards, should residents ever seek township takeover of the roadway. Westin Properties was also required to submit a maintenance plan as part of its final plat application and a covenant on the plat states the roadway cannot be taken over without the necessary upgrades already completed.

“We believe we’ve received everything we need at this point that’s been required,” Frie said. “ … It’s pretty clear … it will be the responsibility of the owners of the plat to upgrade that road before the county board takes it over.”

Problematic private roads

Concerns about private roadways, particularly the numerous examples in the First Assessment District, are nothing new for commissioners but have taken on greater urgency as of late as county officials seek to prevent future road maintenance headaches and unanticipated costs for residents. In August, the board agreed to place a moratorium on private road development while staff studied potential changes to ordinances that could help ensure residents don’t find themselves footing the bill or fighting among themselves to improve substandard, private roadways built by developers.


"I understand the developer is proposing a ‘private’ roadway, but there really is no such thing."

— Tim Houle, county administrator


This application, however, was already in the works at the time of the moratorium vote. A notable change from the original proposal compared to what ultimately gained approval centered on the road. Initially, the developer sought a variance from county ordinance that would have allowed a 20-foot road easement, less than one-third the size of the typical 66-foot road easement set by highway department standards. That variance request was later dropped.

In an unusual move, County Administrator Tim Houle submitted a May 19 comment in his official capacity requesting the board of adjustment deny the variance request, which he described as “so great a deviation as to be unreasonable and contrary to the public’s interests.” Houle wrote it was just the third time in his 27-year career as a county administrator in which he chose to weigh in on a variance application.

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“I understand the developer is proposing a ‘private’ roadway, but there really is no such thing. A road ‘dedicated to the public’s use’ and approved in a plat is a township road, though the township can decide the level of maintenance to give such a road,” Houle wrote. “When the subdivision is full, issues like this can and are brought forward to the township officials if there are problems with plowing, mowing, location of the roadway, and so on. … In essence, what is being requested is a public subsidy to a private development with significant negative potential impacts to neighboring property owners.”

Houle said a request requiring such a significant deviation from the standard is so rare, staff research showed Crow Wing County had not approved a plat with an easement smaller than 66 feet in at least a decade.

“I am confident in telling you that a 20’ width road right-of-way to service a 14-lot subdivision will drive negative constituent issues, negative maintenance issues, downstream costs, and potential for safety hazards for the traveling public,” Houle wrote.

County Engineer Tim Bray also submitted a comment requesting denial of the request.

“The requirements contained in the ordinance help minimize the potential for several problems,” Bray wrote. “These include challenges with the ability to conduct proper summer and winter maintenance activities, ability to provide suitable access by emergency services, and the premature failure of costly infrastructure systems.”

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

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Crow Wing County environmental services supervisor Jake Frie shares information about a proposed housing development Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, with the county board. The subdivision south of Merrifield gained board approval. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSCROW 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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