Despite voiced opposition from many local landowners, the Stevens County Planning Commission has recommended amending the Stevens County Zoning Ordinance to add a new shoreland commercial designation and re-zone property on Perkins Lake to allow for development of property previously owned by Luther Crest Bible Camp.
The request to amend the zoning ordinance was submitted by Ben Hentges (B&H Holdings), the owners of the property at 45456 140th Street in Donnelly, Minn. The property in question is bordered on the north side by the Middle Pomme de Terre Lake, a natural environment lake, and Perkins Lake, a recreational development lake.
The new property owners hope to rent out the existing pavilion and cabins for weddings, family reunions and other events. They also plan to create an area for overnight recreational vehicle parking and space for 30 seasonal RV camping sites.
At a hearing on the re-zoning proposal on Monday night, which was attended by more than 60 residents, co-owner Jon Backman said when they purchased the property, they had a vision for how they might develop the space. However, the plan presented on Monday night was based on ideas and suggestions from the community.
"We're going off of what we got from the community," said Backman. "We're laying it out on the table here. We're not trying to slide anything through the cracks."
The owners worked with Ben Oleson, a planning and zoning administrator with Hometown Planning, to develop language for the new zoning district - a first step in moving their proposal forward.
Stevens County's current zoning ordinance does not allow commercial resorts or commercial planned unit development of any kind on shoreland property. The proposed zoning district, S-3: Water-Oriented Commercial District, would allow commercial lake resorts, "surface water oriented commercial" uses and commercial planned unit developed as conditional uses for shoreland property.
As a conditional use, property owners - including the owners of the old Luther Crest property - would still be required to present plans to the Planning Commissions and County Board of Commissioners in applying for a conditional use permit before embarking on any commercial development.
Notices about the hearing on the proposed zoning district were sent to all property owners in sections 19, 20, 29 and 30 of Swan Lake Township, which includes the entire area surrounding Perkins Lake, said Stevens County Environmental Services Director Bill Kleindl.
The response to the proposed changes from neighbors and other property owners on Perkins Lake who attended Monday night's hearing was mostly negative. While residents expressed less disapproval for re-opening the existing pavilion and cabins, they were overwhelmingly opposed to RV camping, arguing it would impact their own use of the small lake.
Marie and Michael O'Reilly, who own a home surrounded on three sides by the old Luther Crest property, said they were supportive of re-opening the pavilion, but were "vehemently opposed to any changes in regulations that will allow RV and commercial camping" on the property.
"I am not very happy about having to look at 30 RVs out my back door," said Marie.
Members of the Nyroca Club, a hunting club that has owned property on Perkins Lake since 1956, also expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal.
Nyroca Club President Jerry Hertaus, a resident of Greenfield, Minn., said the club members are recognized in the community when they are in town during October and November, and have invested in the Perkins Lake property.
Hertaus said the proposed S-3 zoning district precludes the protection that the current zone offers the area and will interfere with the club's use of the property by harming the environment, a wood duck hunting area.
"We would like to be supportive of [the owners] using the buildings as they're currently being used, but they need to abandon the RV park," said Hertaus. "Rezoning this as a matter of convenience is not an example of good planning, to take care of your natural resources."
Sid Wilcox, another property owner on Perkins Lake, said development on the lake would not be stopped as property owners will continue to build houses around the lake and that the owners should be able to start developing the pavilion and cabins.
"At least let's get that portion of it taken care of, and then if you want to come back with the proposals for the RV park we can sit down and argue about that, but I'd like to see you be able to get some of your revenue back," said Wilcox.
"Our goal is to have people come from different areas, bring people, not even local, into this county, into this township, in the area so they can enjoy this public lake as well," B & H Holdings co-owner Ben Hentges said. "Last time I checked, economic growth wasn't a bad thing and I haven't seen a lot of growth coming from Stevens County in the last 10 years."
After more than an hour of public comments, the Planning Commission discussed the proposal for about 10 minutes before voting unanimously to recommend adding the S-3 zoning district and re-zone the former Luther Crest property.
Planning Commission members Ken Rausch and Paul Watzke both argued that there would be room to discuss specifics of the proposal with the B&H Holdings and residents affected by the development after the S-3 zone and re-zoning were approved.
"I think every situation is going to be unique, even if we do pass the S-3 this evening," said Planning Commission member Mark McNally.
Now that the Planning Commission has recommended the zoning change, the amendment and re-zoning discussion will move to the Stevens County Board of Commissioners for consideration. If the board does approve the amendment and rezoning, the changes will be published in the local newspaper.
Finally, a conditional use hearing on the B & H Holdings proposal will be scheduled. At this hearing, there will be opportunity for residents to voice concerns about specific aspects of the proposal, including the proposed RV park.