MORRIS - The Stevens County Planning Commission has approved a conditional use permit for a commercial development on Perkins Lake that will allow the owners to rent out an existing pavilion and cabins and create space for four overnight recreational vehicle camping sites.
However, property owners B&H Holdings will need to meet several conditions, including upgrading the facility's failing septic system before next fall and providing increased screening between their parking lots and neighboring properties within the next year.
The process for moving this development forward began in April, when B&H Holdings first proposed an amendment to the Stevens County Zoning Ordinance that would open up county shoreland for commercial development.
In the original application for the zoning change, B&H Holdings proposed a more expansive development that would have included 30 seasonal RV camping sites. The amendment and subsequent rezoning of the old Luther Crest property were both passed unanimously by the Planning Commission and the Stevens County Board of Commissioners.
The proposed development faced a delay in June when a citizen petition to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board required the Board Commissioners to consider whether an Environmental Assessment Worksheet on the project should be completed.
The board ultimately voted that an EAW was not required after a report prepared by Planning and Zoning Director Bill Kleindl found the project would not cause any significant environmental effects in the area.
At Monday's conditional use permit hearing, B&H Holding presented a more scaled-back project with only four overnight RV sites and parking for about 120 vehicles. According to their application, B&H Holdings plans to rent the existing pavilion and three cabins for wedding parties, family reunions and other similar events. The cabins could also be rented out between events, along with docks and rentable boats.
"I think we've been pretty up front with what we wanted to do," said Jon Backman, who spoke on behalf of B&H Holdings. "I think we've stayed on course as to what we told you in our initial meeting as to what we really wanted to do besides the seasonal camping."
During a public comment period at Monday's hearing, neighbors who attended expressed concerns about noise pollution from the development and the quality of the site's existing septic system, as ell as more general concerns about the process of the development thus far.
George Graff, a neighbor who has lived on Perkins Lake since 1977, said he worried that music played during dances would be a disturbance.
"When Luther Crest first started, then probably had 25 to 30 campers there at a time," said Graff. "We could actually sit in our backyard and, because of how the music carries across the water, we could hear them singing their songs. I'm pretty sure that we're going to be able to hear dance music."
Kleindl explained that Minnesota State Statutes already provide regulations when it comes to noise, and that the county cannot place conditions on the property that are more restrictive than what the state as prescribed.
If neighbors have a problem with noise, there is way to make complaints with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency online or by phone. If there are repeated complaints, the MPCA will send a decibel meter to the county to take measurements, Kleindl said.
Neighbor Michael O'Reilly, who served as the petitioner's representative in the effort to require an EAW, expressed concerns about the quality of the septic system and the requirements for a screen between the parking lots and his property.
A septic system inspection in June found that the existing system is failing to meet ground water separation requirements and will need to be replaced within 18 months of the inspection. O'Reilly argued that B&H Holdings should be required to limit the number of people they could host, and keep one cabin with a questionable system out of use until the system is upgraded.
At the end of his prepared comments, O'Reilly held up a copy of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, calling the book required reading for B&H Holdings, the planning commission, and Kleindl.
Neighbor Marie O'Reilly criticized the process that this development has moved through, starting with the initial meeting to change the county zoning ordinance. O'Reilly accused the planning commission of ignoring objections to the project and making decisions about the development before allowing for public comment.
"Your decisions have been made from the very beginning, and it has all been manipulated," she said.
O'Reilly also argued that the process of completing an EAW would have been a way to "find the truth" about the project, but that leaving the meeting to the last minute showed the county was trying to manipulate the process.
"Given these past examples, what reason do we have to believe that you're going to pay any attention to what we've said tonight?" she asked. "This is a hypocritical process and that is wrong. ... We have come to this meeting tonight with the hopes that things might be different."
Members of the planning commission denied Marie O'Reilly's accusations, noting that all meetings in the process have been properly notified and publicized and that they have asked questions about the development throughout the process.
Planning commission member Ken Rausch noted that the development has been scaled back to include just four overnight RV sites, as a result of neighbor concerns about a bigger project.
"I can assure you that we've had no meetings trying to manipulate this process," said planning commission member Mark McNally. "You maybe do not like the outcome of our votes, but that doesn't mean there's any collusion, any manipulation going on here."
At the end of the hearing, and after an extensive discussion of the relevant statues and ordinances, the planning commission unanimously approved the conditional use permit with a number of specific conditions including:
a limit of four RV camping sites, with RVs limited to no more than 10 consecutive days per use;
a requirement of regular pumping of the existing septic system, and a limit on the uses for one cabin until the location of its septic system is established;
a limit cutting within 150 feet of Middle Pomme de Terre lake;
a requirement to plant screening plants or fences along parking areas within one year;
and a requirement for a vegetative buffer along the shoreline of Perkins Lake.