WALKER -- The Cass County Board continued a public hearing on changes to the zoning ordinance concerning resorts until the 6 p.m. July 19 meeting at the Remer Chamber of Commerce to give time for public comment on new changes suggested Tuesday.
Jerry Emery, Big Rock Resort, and Terry Holloway, Pine Ridge Resort, both members of the resort task force, asked the board to make existing resorts a permitted use in the waterfront commercial district and require conditional use permits only for new resorts.
They also asked that resorts be able to retain the 50 percent of lake frontage rather and the proposed new restriction to 50-foot clear frontage for open space to the lake. Emery said resorts like his with 1,000 feet of lake frontage would have to spend a tremendous amount to restore all but 50 feet of frontage to natural vegetation.
Holloway also said resort guests expect to see the lake from their cabins.
Commissioners received many comments from the public Tuesday on lake access portions of the county's land use ordinance.
They voted to extend the moratorium on lake accesses until the Sept. 6 board meeting so they could discuss this issue with DNR Commissioner Ron Morreim at the board's Aug. 2 meeting and to obtain more information about what a DNR study finds in the state's research into the effect of accesses on lakes.
The board also asked county staff and the planning commission and environmental services advisory committee to evaluate lake accesses in relation to the county's comprehensive plan.
ESD Director John Sumption said results of a special lake access study Bemidji State University plans to conduct probably will not be known until next summer.
Cass' consulting attorneys on zoning issues have advised that the county cannot regulate lake accesses on the basis of ownership, Sumption said.
In a recent letter to Cass Commissioner Jeff Peterson, Sumption wrote: " ... since (the county) only (has) jurisdiction to the ordinary high watermark and DNR regulates activities in the lake, access lot use has to be a joint area of regulation. We cannot address the impacts of access lots on lakes if the state continues to grant blanket permits for docks, beach blankets, riprap, vegetation removal and boating activity that disturbs bottom sediments."
Sumption suggested Tuesday that the current county land use ordinance section that would permit up to three offshore lot owners to share a single buildable size lake lot in a plat on General Development and Recreational Development lakes (unless separated by a state or county highway) be continued. None currently is allowed on Natural Environment lakes.
While access lots in a plat are allowed under the ordinance, no applications are currently being processed because of the county board's moratorium set earlier this summer and extended Tuesday.
John Zacher, Walker, told the board Tuesday he sees the prohibition against lake accesses for off-shore landowners when a county or state road separates that land from a lake as being a potential unfair or illegal taking of value from existing properties.
Skip Duchesneau, Walker, asked the board to reconsider the reduction made this spring in the ordinance from permitting six residential lot owners to share a lake access lot to permitting only three owners of one access lot. He suggested permitting four on General Development Lakes and retaining three for Recreational Development lakes.
He also said DNR studies have shown that while the number of boats has increased in the last 15 years, the number being used on Minnesota lakes is down.
Vicki Elsenpeter, who described herself as a sixth generation Walker area resident, countered Duchesneau's report on the DNR study. She said she definitely sees more boats on lakes here than in the past, with most being bigger and faster today.
She said she has traveled throughout the country and does not want to see development destroy this area as it has other parts of the country. She objected to all lake access lots.
John Erickson, Brainerd attorney who represents Breezy Point Homeowners Association on Leech Lake and who said he has vacationed on and lived on Gull Lake property for 50 years, asked Cass commissioners to follow Crow Wing County's lead in eliminating lake access lots. Any access lot is illegal in his view, because Cass' land use ordinance does not list it as a permitted use.
Warren Anderson, owner of Northland Lodge on Leech Lake, told the board a suggestion to permit developers to include lake access lots in a plat separated by a state or county road if the developer installed an overpass or underpass would not work.
Retirees who might buy the lots won't want to climb the stairs. They will just walk across the highway even if an overpass is there, he said. With fewer resorts today, Anderson believes there also are fewer boats on the water.
Don Althaus, a resident on Webb Lake east of Hackensack, which has a DNR public lake access, said he sees increased traffic, boat usage and noise levels, even at 2 a.m.
Vic Rinke asked the board who would police the access lots. No one lives on them. Owners' properties likely will be far enough away that no owner will know whether someone used the lake lot for parties at night.
Nancy Tilbury, Portage Chain of Lakes Association, a 30-year property owner, said she has seen a definite downgrading of water quality as lake use has increased.
"Who is going to protect my property value?" she asked.
Zacher suggested the county not only require sewer system upgrades when landowners apply for building permits, but also require shoreline restoration. In his view, current property owners are much at fault in determining the future of lakes as are potential additional landowners and lake users.
He also suggested people who buy off-shore property with a shared lake access lot probably won't be people who can afford a 30-foot cruiser.
Duchesneau suggested the county require a storm water run-off plan for every building permit. It is important to prevent run-off from any developed lot from reaching lakes and rivers, he said.
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