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Kim Ukura

Literature in a Hurry: Redevelopment will have positive economic ripples

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Over the last three weeks, there has been heated debate at public hearings and in our letters to the editor section about a proposal that will open the door for the former Luther Crest Bible Camp property on Perkins Lake to be reopened as a commercial venture.

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In brief, B&H Holdings, co-owned by Jon Backman, Ben Hentges, Peter Hentges and Jackie Hentges, would like to amend Stevens County's zoning ordinance to allow for a new zoning district for commercial development along shoreland. They would then like to rezone the old Luther Crest property to allow commercial uses, which would let them open the pavilion and cabins for events and add overnight and seasonal camping.  

This week, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners considered the proposal for the first time, giving it a first reading and setting a second reading (and plan to act on the proposal) for their next meeting in May.

I want to urge the members of the Board of Commissioners to vote in favor of the zoning ordinance amendment and rezoning application because redeveloping this site, which has historically been used as a public gathering place in the community, is a positive step for economic improvement in Stevens County.

Developing a space that can host family reunions, banquets and weddings will provide an opportunity for local residents to have their celebrations here in the community, rather than going to a venue outside Stevens County. It will also give opportunities for local businesses to help cater and host those events. If done well, reinvigorating this beautiful property will have a positive ripple-effect throughout our area.

The owners of B&H Holdings have been more than accommodating in sharing their plans early in the process and verbally agreeing to adapt those plans based on community feedback. They have opened themselves up to criticism early in the process, and, from what I've seen, worked to address those criticisms as they move forward.

When other Perkins Lake property owners expressed concern over adding a seasonal campground for recreational vehicles, B&H Holdings verbally agreed to withdraw that part of the proposal. While that doesn't prevent them from adding camping sites in the future, as neighbors have pointed out, it does reflect a willingness to compromise and work as good neighbors moving forward.

Certainly, adding any type of commercial development to Perkins Lake will cause some changes. And yes, rezoning the property does present an opportunity for a future developer to purchase the property and propose a more extensive commercial project. But that is a risk that has to be taken if there is any chance for the property to be effectively and responsibly developed now.

This process is far from over. If the amendment and rezoning proposal is passed this week, B&H Holdings will have to apply for a conditional use permit for the property in which they'll need to further outline their specific plans. This is the time for the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners to recognize the many valid concerns voiced by neighbors on the lake, perhaps limiting the number of camping sites allowed or setting requirements for how those sites must be screened from neighboring properties. There is a lot of room for compromise when the conditional use permit discussions happen.

But at this point, stopping the zoning amendment and rezoning application will cripple the opportunities available to redevelop this property. That is why I hope the board will vote in favor of the application.

It's also important for other members of the community to voice their opinions on this issue - whether they agree with me or not. Public comment on this proposal has been, thus far, relatively negative and concentrated among a few voices. Take a few minutes to sent your commissioner an e-mail and let them know what you think, to make sure the most frequent voices are not the only opinions that are heard.

Comments on the proposal can also be directed to Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Kleindl (billkleindl@co.stevens.mn.us), who will pass them on to the Board of Commissioners.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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