John Wills said he left the metro area and later Becker in search of a rural setting, buying 240 acres in St. Mathias Township a decade ago.
He moved to Crow Wing County to live in an area that wasn’t next to a housing development. He was recreating the experience of his father-in-law’s farm by Big Lake where they enjoyed riding horses along the river bank for some of the best times of their lives.
Wills said his father-in-law’s farm was pushed out of Big Lake. Tuesday a number of St. Mathias Township residents brought that same concern to the Crow Wing County Board.
They spoke against a planning commission recommendation to allow ag land to be rezoned into smaller residential parcels.
For neighbors, the rezoning represented one more step to a loss of a rural lifestyle.
For rezoning applicants, carving out smaller home sites was a way to sell their land.
It all added up to a decision for the Crow Wing County Board and one they had delayed earlier as they asked the planning commission to reconsider its first recommendation favoring the rezoning.
Tuesday, the decision was back before the board. Neighbors again made pleas for a denial, asking commissioners why the planning commission was using other 10-acre parcels, some of them grandfathered in, as the benchmark to allow the rezoning and not mentioning the large land tracks all around it.
Neighbor Lowell Johnson, who lives on 110 acres, said the 10-acre lots that far from Brainerd, has the potential to destroy the rural neighborhood.
The neighbors said the reason the property didn’t sell as larger tracts is because it was overpriced. Lowell said the desire to sell 10-acre parcels didn’t warrant the need to change the land use classification.
The applicants representative said the rezoning met all the standards of the county’s comprehensive plan, which says marginal land next to roads represents a natural progression for development and asked for the board’s support.
Neighbor Henry Koering, who lives on 80 acres, said rezoning to the 10-acre parcels sets a scary precedent and now others may come in and buy 40 acres only to seek more rezoning to the 10-acre sizes.
It wasn’t a matter of one or two houses in a rural area, but the size of the Nelson rezoning represented as many as 24 houses, not two.
Residents wondered how that would fit with an area with active farming and hay fields with the dust, noises and aroma’s involved in a farming community.
Carrie Allord, St. Mathias Township supervisor, said the township hadn’t had time to meet to officially respond to the revised rezoning but stood with its last request for 20-acre parcels. Personally, Allord said she wanted to see the larger 35-acre tracts remain.
Allord said the fact that there are large tracts there didn’t seem equally as important as the neighboring 10-acre tracts grandfathered in previously. Allord said she felt the letters and testimonies from neighbors had gone unheard and was disappointed in that.
Allord asked why the limits had to be pushed for so many homes, throwing away the rural living in an agricultural area that wanted to stay that way.
Jon Adams lives next door on 15 acres for a hobby farm, which he said he bought because larger tracts were all around it.
The applicant, Linda Nelson, was seeking to rezone 120 acres off 20th Street in St. Mathias Township. The current zoning has a minimum of 35 acres for agriculture and forestry land. The applicant sought to rezone three of the 40 tracts into residential 10-acre parcels and three others into 20-acre residential parcels.
After the county board sent the issue back to the planning commission, three commission members visited the site.
Chris Pence, Land Services supervisor, said it took three motions to get the revised recommendation before the county board Tuesday.
The final recommendation was to rezone one 40 acre parcel and half of another to the 10-acre tracts and rezone the rest to 20-acre parcels.
County Board member Phil Trusty said he would have liked to have seen the level of discussion and site visit earlier and previously wanted to make sure the township comprehensive plan was part of the consideration.
Trusty said he wanted to make sure all the decisions were made with the best information and he understood the township perspective. Trusty said he personally didn’t want to see the area developed — he noted he grew up in the area —but in the end he made the motion approving the most recent planning commission recommendation. Other board members followed, passing the motion.