After months of testimony and packed public hearings, the Crow Wing County Board made its decision regarding changes to its land use regulations Tuesday.
Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance revisions governing land use.
The process involved public hearings, an expanded comment period and a level of feedback that commissioners said was remarkable for quality and quantity. Original recommendations, such as no-mow buffer zones on lakes, were modified and scaled back based on public feedback.
The revisions were not without controversy as critics called it an over-reach of government control. Critics said the regulations would hurt an already deflated real estate market, hurting the building industry and real estate agents. Those in favor said the revisions would protect the region’s economic engine — the lakes, making the area a desirable place to live and work.
Tuesday, the board did not accept additional public comment although several people attended the meeting. Commissioners made a few final changes to the proposed revisions.
Notable among the changes was the elimination of a 500-square-foot maximum limit on an one-time expansion of a structure built before 1970. The revisions mean the expansion option will be phased out in four years. And when a shoreland property is covered by two lakes with different classifications, the zoning regulations will be based on where the majority of the water is flowing from the land based on its topography.
But a recent rumor received the brunt of the board’s attention.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said it was a lively week when real estate agent advertisements listing commissioners and their phone numbers allowed for important and significant conversations with residents.
That was particularly important, Nystrom said, because of the rumors and innuendo swirling around the issue to a length she hasn’t seen in five years on the county board.
“I find them very concerning and very worrisome,” Nystrom said. “It’s one thing to express your opinion, but when you state something as fact when it is not fact that is a very big difference.
“And as a member of this county board I resent being accused of things that is a figment of somebody’s imagination,” Nystrom said noting that accusation is then copied and emailed to others and brought up on a Brainerd radio station.
“And there is no basis for it,” Nystrom said.
Emails have been circulating with the charge county officials were bribed by the DNR to make ordinance changes here using a $135,000 grant. As with the phone game, the rumor changed with the telling and became an offer by the DNR to pay the county $135,000 a year to make the ordinance changes.
Last year, the county submitted a grant request to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. Mark Liedl, land services director, noted the LCCMR is not the DNR but a commission of legislators and residents who use lottery funds.
The county withdrew its application March 4 after Region Five received a large grant with similar regional planning goals. The grant application related to that funding was not for the county’s current land use rewrite but was associated with the Gull Lake Micropolitan project involving the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Cass County along with other municipalities.
“To be accused that we have been bribed by the Department of Natural Resources has to be a fantasy that somebody dreamt up in their sleep, because it did not happen,” Nystrom said. “But because it’s been repeated and repeated and repeated, some people are thinking it’s reality.”
The emails circulated with the claim included one from an area real estate agent. Nystrom said the man works at a reputable company in the county but she can’t imagine any business person basing such a theory on something they heard from someone else.
“There is not even a grain of truth in this,” Nystrom said. “... Ladies and gentleman, I have not spoken to someone from the Department of Natural Resources concerning our zoning ordinances in Crow Wing County. And I would suggest my colleagues would say the same.
“There has not been a bribe. There has not been a conversation. There has not been a penny on the table.”
Nystrom said anyone who believes that has happened should bring forward the evidence because she’d be very interested to see it or hear it.
“To take the work of our department and our employees and try to cloud it up with this nonsense is ridiculous,” Nystrom said. “The people who have tried to put this forward have done nothing to advance their case. I feel sorry for them because it is just so outlandish.”
Nystrom said on the plus side she heard from callers who had no idea who their commissioner was and from a Brainerd city resident worried the regulations meant a sidewalk couldn’t be fixed. Nystrom said the county was basing its decision on the best knowledge now and if it doesn’t work, she’d be the first person to return to the drawing board. But at this point, Nystrom said the revisions are a thoughtful, progressive way to protect the county’s biggest asset — the lakes.
Commissioners Phil Trusty thanked Nystrom ,saying he couldn’t have said it better. Commissioner Doug Houge also echoed Nystroms sentiments.
“This is what I consider a very fair balance of giving back some property rights, as well as protecting our natural environment,” Houge said, adding staff did an excellent job and he fully supported the revisions.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said many people support the changes. Franzen said one of the contentious issues of allowable impervious surface was giving residents more options instead of less.
“I think we are doing the right thing,” Franzen said.
Chairman Paul Thiede said the discussion has been open and transparent and public members were allowed to vent and some of it was borderline libelous.
“I pride myself at being a student of government and I pride myself at being a Constitutionalist and I can tell you some of the allegations that are being leveled against me are absolutely ridiculous,” Thiede said. “I take great offense to that because I pride myself on trying to follow what I think are the founding documents of this country.
“... I think this has been a very reasoned process.”
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.