The meeting was called to order at 9:18 am. All Supervisors were in attendance along with the Clerk and Deputy-Clerk, County, Commissioner Paul Thiede, Jacob Frie of the County Land Services Department, and four residents were also present at the meeting. The appellant was not present but had been contacted and had given permission to access her property during the onsite review.
Chairman Peterson opened the meeting by presenting an agenda outlining the reason for the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, and the steps that will be taken at this time. He stated that the County had made an administrative decision in March 2018 stating that a vehicle bridge over a wetland area on one parcel in the Cottages at Boyd Lodge plat met requirements and was permissible under the County ordinances. An appeal of the decision was submitted in September 2018 by the neighboring property owner Julie Rupert.
The County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment (BOA) tabled the topic at their October 18 meeting and would again be considering the appeal at the November 15 meeting. The Town Board had been asked to be involved in the process by the County and by several residents. The Town Board can only review the case and submit comments or a recommendation to the County Board. The County BOA has the sole authority to decide on the case at this time.
The purpose of the meeting is to gather the facts from all the concerned parties but not necessarily to take Board action at this time. Peterson started with a review of the timeline of events concerning the property, the administrative decision made by the County, the sale of the lot in question, the appeal by the neighboring property owner, and action taken by the County & the Town Board since receiving comments by concerned citizens. Peterson pointed out that the Board would review the facts, listen to comments by those present, and then recess & reconvene at the site.
Peterson asked that everyone present introduce themselves and indicate why they had attended.
Peterson then asked Jacob Frie to explain the administrative decision taken and the process used to determine their conclusions at the time. Frie stated that the administrative decision resulted from a conversation with owners of Rona Shores LLC in the Spring of 2018. They reviewed the County ordinances regarding driveway permitting and the Water Conservation Act (WCA) requirements for wetlands.
Their conclusion was that driveways do not require a land use permit and that a bridge was an extension of a driveway. As such, no permit or variance application was required and therefore the notice & hearing process normally used for permitting was not taken. Further, they examined the WCA to see what types of activity in the wetland would need an exemption and determined that a bridge would not permanently impact the wetland once the construction was complete and appropriate restoration steps taken. They concluded that the bridge as proposed was appropriate given the current County ordinances and Minnesota statutes.
Frie further commented that the DNR Sensitive Lakeshore Survey from 2012 presented by concerned neighbors was important and informative but that its recommendations had not been adopted by the County to be included in the Land Use Ordinance.
He also informed the Board that the case was reviewed by the County’s Technical Evaluation Panel (TEP) and discussed at a meeting on November 6th. The TEP panel is often used as a resource when making land use decisions but is not required by law. The panel discussed methods of constraint during the construction that would minimize impact and that the area would suffer no permanent impact once the appropriate restoration steps are taken after construction as required by the WCA.
Peterson asked to confirm, as noted in an email message included in the BOA meeting agenda, that a DNR permit would be required for development within the floodplain. Frie responded that the TEP had considered this and determined that the bridge as proposed would be placed well above the level needed to meet the floodplain requirements.
Peterson then asked the concerned citizens to make brief remarks.
Martha Davidge commented that she has been a neighbor of Boyd Lodge since 1956 and, as owner of property on the south end of the wetland, was a person who cares for the wetland and the water quality of the Whitefish Chain. She stated that Julie Rupert had asked her to speak, as Ms. Rupert was not able to attend the meeting. Davidge pointed out that the area is within a Sensitive Shoreland area and near Sensitive Lakeshore as designated by the DNR Sensitive Lakeshore Survey. She noted that a vehicle bridge risked damage to the wetland during and after construction and would adversely affect critical habitat for many species that use the wetland. She also pointed out that the entire area is subject to a Perpetual Wetland Conservation Easement executed by the owners of Rona Shores LLC and recorded in March 2008 that prohibits alteration “in any way”. And she questioned the process taken by the County that did not provide notice or allow for input from affected neighbors and other concerned citizens.
Kathe Lemmerman then spoke noting that development in that area had been through many steps with one commercial developer starting a large project there and then backing out. That during that process, the wetland was delineated, and conservation easement executed as condition of the permitting despite the developer wanting to use the area. Her further assertion was that the wetland is connected to the Whitefish Chain and contains open water and therefore should be considered public waters and be subject to a 75’ foot setback making it impractical to build on the beach side of the wetland thus making the bridge unnecessary. She noted that the plat drawing presented during that process in 2011 indicated the homes would be on the bluff side of the wetland.
Frie responded saying that the wetland is not public waters as defined in statute and so the wetland setback of 15’ applies providing sufficient upland building envelope area on the beach side of the parcel. The ends of the bridge are placed outside the setback area. Regarding the conservation easement, they used the definition of “impact” as given in statute and thus concluded the bridge would not violate the easement conditions. Further, he commented that there had been no permit application submitted yet, so no notice was required and that their objective is to always treat cases uniformly.
Tom Watson, former President & current Board member of the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA), spoke pointing out that the process taken did not work for this case, the ordinance is not clear what constitutes an “administrative decision”, and the decision was not posted allowing citizens know what was done. He commented that lake associations have been critical of the land use ordinance updates that allows this and other cases affecting wetlands in the watershed. WAPOA has been doing water testing on the chain over many years and, even with the progress being made, the water quality is still deteriorating. The economics of lakes & water in Crow Wing County are such that protecting the resource is critical and each additional piece of impervious surface within the shorelands adds more risk.
Jim Brandt said that he was involved when the Boyd property was developed in 2007-2008 and building was kept away from the beach to minimize impact. He asked what the elevation of the home site area and if it allows for a septic system there. He questioned the size of the lot and the buildable area on the beach side. The property owner has room to build without disturbing the wetland & beach areas. Frie responded that there is no permit application for the building, but that a permit would have to meet all the setbacks & standards.
Lemmerman asked if the bridge would allow for fire trucks to access the home site. Peterson answered that there are many homes inaccessible to township fire trucks, but that the department has a procedure to pump from the road and have hoses run up to the homesite.
Brandt asked about the TEP notes and how stormwater will be handled for the driveway and home. Frie responded that a stormwater plan would be mandatory showing that the area would be stabilized and re-vegetated after construction. Frie commented that the DNR would require permitting for the project and that it is possible that the County Board of Adjustment would remand the case until that permit is obtained.
Commissioner Thiede commented that the County has to follow the legal parameters and that the process allows for the public to see details and appeal decisions. That the County welcomes input by the lake associations and that it did not adopt the DNR Sensitive Lakeshore Survey results for good reasons.
Frie added that the TEP panel recommendations include financial assurance to be in place to rectify any problems after construction to assure there is no loss of function of the wetlands. That assurance would include a written plan addressing how the wetlands are to be restored.
Supervisor Johnson expressed his concern that the Town Board is put in position of responsibility without having any enforcement ability. The Township does not have its own ordinance so can only refer to goals in the Township Comprehensive Plan and make a recommendation to the County. Having the Township take the step to adopt its own ordinances would be a dramatic change.
Peterson recessed the meeting at 11:06 am to allow transport time for the group to reconvene on site at 11:15 am.
Frie pointed out the stakes showing the ends of the proposed bridge and a description of the driveway layout. The sequence of events was questioned regarding the existing footbridge on the adjacent lot and whether that was a violation of the conservation easement. Frie indicated that bridge pilings do not meet the definition of impact and thus the footbridge would not be a violation.
No Board action was taken. The topic will be taken up again at the November Board Meeting on Tuesday November 13 at 7:00 pm.
There being no further business to conduct, the meeting adjourned at 11:35 am.
Ideal Township Clerk
November 11th, 2018