WALKER -- The Cass County Board conducted an hour-long public hearing Tuesday before approving changes to the countywide land use ordinance on a 3-2 split vote.
Commissioner Jeff Peterson made a motion during the hearing, seconded by Commissioner Virgil Foster, to eliminate public water access lots to serve all off-shore properties in plats on all classes of lakes. Their motion died on a 2-3 split vote. They voted against the total revision package, because that change was not made.
Revisions to the ordinance the board approved Tuesday will take effect May 27, 30 days from publication in the county's official newspaper.
Public comment the board received at Tuesday's hearing cited both sides of the issue: a desire for developers and people selling land to provide water access to more lots versus a desire to limit lake access only to shoreline property owners to limit human impact on water quality.
The board adopted revisions the planning commission and environmental services advisory committee recommended.
Controlled access lots in plats now must be designated by a recorded document with property owners allowed use of the access to have joint undivided ownership of that shoreline access lot.
The planning commission will have an option to require (instead of one dock per lot) an access lot within a plat to serve up to six shoreline lots when the shore involves wetlands or other critical fish or wildlife habitat. To provide access from that lot for more than six shoreline property owners in a plat, the size of the original lake access lot (which must meet standard lot size for the lake it abuts) must be increased by 25 percent for each additional user lot.
Access will be allowed for up to three off-shore lots on general development or recreational development lakes and all river classes. If access is desired for more off-shore lots, the access lot size must increase by 25 percent over standard lot size.
Continuous watercraft mooring from the access lot is limited to one watercraft per lot served whether the user lots are on the shore or are off-shore.
No access lots will be allowed for off-shore lots on natural environment lakes or for off-shore lots adjacent to lakes or rivers of any class in cases where a federal, state or county highway separates proposed user lots from the lake or river.
The Environmental Services Department must approve a buffer plan to screen an access lot from adjacent properties. No residences or businesses may be placed on a lake access lot.
Major revisions to ordinance sections on resorts were made to permit owners to upgrade and add cabins more easily. A resort or campground is defined as one the Minnesota Department of Health licenses.
Resort owners must own all the land, but may sell part or all ownership individual cabins to a second party or parties on the condition the second party(ies) owner does not live in the cabin more than three weeks between June 1 and Sept. 1 or more than 26 week total of any calendar year.
Operations unable to comply with these restrictions would be required to apply for a planned unit development and conditional use permit.
Norm Cole, president of Resort Sales Group Inc., objected to the summer three-week cabin use limit, noting resorts on the north shore of Lake Superior are now thriving year-round with shared ownership cabins, generally owned by four parties. If this system were used here, he said, one of the four owners would not be able to use the cabin in a summer month under Cass' ordinance.
People coming to successful resorts today generally are not fishermen, he said. They come to watch wildlife and enjoy other recreation year-round, Cole said.
Ben Thuringer of Madden's on Gull Resort in East Gull Lake said their resort conducted a customer survey by calculating boat usage and other factors. They determined their guests average only 0.9 minutes making use of the lake while at their resort.
Commissioner Jim Demgen asked Environmental Services Department staff to consider this information in making future ordinance revisions to encourage more year-round resorts in this area.
Other changes this year in the land use ordinance will make permits valid for two years, limiting the number of extensions the ESD has to issue. Individual sewer treatment system permits will continue to be valid for only one year, however.
The county made the first step toward classing some environmentally sensitive sections of lakes more restrictively by separating Donut Lake from Washburn Lake near Emily and making Donut a natural environment lake rather than general development like Washburn.
Paul Fairbanks, county planner, said ESD is working on about a half a dozen intra-lake pilot classification changes for portions of large lakes to propose within the next year.
John Sumption, ESD director, said it will take two to three years before intra-lake zoning can be completed countywide, but he predicted Cass still will make that change ahead of the DNR.
For a complete copy of Cass' revised land use ordinance, visit the county Web site at www.co.cass.mn.us.
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