For the next three months, Crow Wing County will conduct an assessment of the Crosslake Planning and Zoning Department.
Chris Pence, land services supervisor in environmental services, plans to spend one day a week assessing Crosslake’s planning and zoning operations.
In a report to the Crow Wing County Board, Pence said the assessment will focus on operations not current employee performance. Pence plans to evaluate current operations looking at “customer service, process and policy, ordinance review and reporting.”
To do that, Pence plans to observe the office, look at the city ordinances for clarity and effectiveness, review all issued permits, variances, conditional use permits and other interactions dating back to 2009. People who have interacted with the Crosslake planning office will be asked to participate in a brief survey and other groups such as real estate agents and contractors will be contacted for their reviews. Crow Wing County will provide the service at no charge.
Crosslake recently has seen a shift in where it might be going with planning and zoning policy following recent council elections. Staff positions changed as well with longtime administrator Tom Swenson retiring early at the end of 2012 in what the Lake Country Echo called a resignation in protest after Swenson was approached by the mayor and a council member regarding his plans for retirement. Jennifer Max, clerk-treasurer, originally tapped to act as interim administrator relinquished her interim role earlier this month saying the council was moving forward in a direction that didn’t include an administrator.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Commissioner Rosemary Franzen noted one attachment included an estimate of Crosslake saving about $100,000 per year by sharing planning and zoning services with the county, linked to conversations between the two governments in early 2011. Pence said it was premature to put a number on savings and that figure was thrown out as a potential if the county were to provide the planning services.
Administrator Tim Houle said he didn’t want to leave the impression the county was going into Crosslake to teach them about planning and zoning. Houle said something can be learned in both directions.
Pence said he takes it as a compliment to the county to be asked to do this kind of assessment.
In May of 2011, the Crosslake council voted to direct staff to work with the county land services to arrive at a contract for planning and zoning administrative services.
No such work took place, the city reported. In a Jan. 31 letter outlining the city’s resolution and signed by Crosslake Mayor Darrell Schneider, the city stated it never proposed to “farm out” city planning and zoning or release control of its land use ordinance to the county.
“Crow Wing County will work for Crosslake under this or any future agreement,” the council stated. “Final authority will rest with the Crosslake City Council.”
Crosslake reported Ken Anderson, community development director, will remain in his position and assist Pence, gathering requested information. Tuesday, Commissioner Paul Thiede said he’s an advocate of improved cooperation and this is another step in that direction. The county, Thiede said, is not trying to impose anything and in his estimation arguments the city wants to bring in the county is really a straw man — an exaggerated or misrepresented position. Instead, Thiede said this partnership is about improving relations and he supported it.
“Crosslake wishes to commence with an update of our land use ordinance to conform more closely with the new state shoreland rules,” the Crosslake council resolution stated. “The county has great experience in this area and can help move this process along quickly. This new position and partnership with the county will have the secondary focus of moving Crosslake in this direction by advising council toward that goal.”