Treasure or trash?
That is the question for Crow Wing County Board members as they discussed properties bearing considerable amounts of what may be described as junk or salvage material, depending on the individual perspective. Tuesday the county's planning and zoning department brought forward three properties, within 1,000 feet of lake bodies, full of trash or treasure. The properties are in violation of the county's zoning ordinance and solid waste ordinance.
Aaron Patrick, enforcement officer, sought approval to seek bids to cleanup the properties using a solid waste fund for the costs. The county would then place a special assessment against the property to recover the cleanup fees.
Commissioner Doug Houge said he received several calls about the properties, particularly in concern about the nearby lakes, and assessing cleanup fees back to the owners has been used successfully in the past. Houge said this action seemed to be the only way to get the gross violations cleaned up. Commissioner Paul Thiede said he wasn't against a cleanup, but the timing seemed odd.
Former administrator David Hamilton previously oversaw the planning and zoning office. The county expects to hire a new land services director this spring. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen questioned why the cleanup issue had been ongoing between six or eight years between the three cases. Thiede asked why the county wasn't enforcing the violations previously.
In the past, the county used a cease and desist order in an attempt to stop further violations of the county ordinance. County Attorney Don Ryan said Hamilton ordered planning and zoning to stop issuing cease and desist orders. Ryan said staff has been getting directives from the board to work with property owners and now hearing that it's taken too long puts them in the position of not being able to win for losing. Ryan said the staff also was told to keep working on projects and not to be in a holding pattern until a land services director was hired.
Patrick said he has been working on the properties for a year and through the case histories not much progress was made to put the owners in compliance with county regulations. Patrick said he thought the special assessment option would be a worthy discussion for the board.
"It's an action I just detest," said Commissioner Dewey Tautges regarding going on personal property with the county doing the cleanup. Tautges said he needed to be shown there was a health issue to be in favor of county action.
Back and forth communication - from phone calls to letters to inspections - between the county and property owners have gone on for years without resolution. Files on Peri Pentz-Brown's property in Bay Lake Township and Douglas Rolfson's property in Garrison Township extend back to 2000.
Planning and zoning reported the most recent inspection at the Pentz-Brown property has 20 unlicensed vehicles, two appliances, two illegal burn piles, four unlicensed tow trucks, 20 snowmobiles, lawn mowers, all-terrain vehicles, five boats, two motorized bikes and about 95 tires along with piles of scrap metal and lumber, fuel oil barrels and car parts.
The most recent inspection on the Rolfson property included 56 unlicensed vehicles, 22 lawn mowers, snowblowers, three buses, seven trailers, six appliances, a camper, about 50 tires, auto parts, windows, lumber piles, cable rollers, carpet, furniture, 100-gallon barrels and aerial antennas.
At the Marvin and Sandra Zugschwert property in Nokay Lake Township the most recent inspection included three unlicensed vehicles, 38 lawn mowers, four campers, nine motorized bikes, 48 tires, 11 bicycles, scrap iron and lumber, car parts, cement blocks and car parts among other items.
Sandra Zugschwert said the family has a lawn care business and her children and grandchildren use the items such as the motorized bikes. Zugschwert said they have cleaned up the property and are continuing to work on it.
"Who is he to say the lawnmower we are using is junk," Zugschwert said motioning toward Patrick.
Thiede said no reasonable person would say it's been cleaned up. Thiede said he didn't want to send the wrong message and the county was going to address the issue. Houge's motion to seek the bids for the cleanups failed for lack of a second.
The board agreed to put the issue back on its May 13 agenda. Tautges told the property owners it would look good to the board if they were able to show progress in the meantime.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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