Few Crow Wing County meetings attract so many residents that portable walls need to be removed to make more room. But that's what happened Wednesday night.
So many people attended the county's hearing on planned unit developments that the meeting was momentarily delayed as workers took down the partition between the Service Building meeting room and the courtroom next door.
People filled chairs in the jury box and gallery. Still there was standing room only as more than 170 people crowded into the space.
It was a who's who of area resorters and environmental activists. No decisions were made. But Crow Wing County Commissioners Terry Sluss, Ed Larsen, Gary Walters and Dewey Tautges along with planning commission members listened to public comments for more than two hours.
"One hundred years from now everyone in this room is going to be dead," said Tom Beaver, Nisswa. "Put it in perspective. Do you want your lakes to be green or blue?"
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
A lone pontoon boat, moored to a dock, rocked Wednesday on North Long Lake. Lake quality, tourism and concern for the environment were topics during a Crow Wing County hearing Wednesday on planned unit developments.
At issue are planned unit developments, particularly along lakeshore. On one hand there are concerns about greater density in the number of buildings and people and the effect on the environment and area lakes. On the other hand are resort owners, contractors, tourism officials and businesses who fear changes will keep resorts from thriving, hurt the economy and limit access to area lakes.
With rising land prices and a tourism industry still trying to rebound from a post-Sept. 11 economy, small resorts are being converted to PUDs. Commercial development allows greater density, more units and more people than residential zoning.
PUDs can occur on undeveloped property, when land such as Potlatch's comes on the market. Other PUDs involve redevelopment of resorts from cabins and campsites to homes. A third option comes with a resort expansion as additional property is acquired.
Bonnie Finnerty, Crow Wing County planner, said there are so many difficulties with the county's current ordinance -- including court action when PUDs are approved -- it was obvious something needed to be changed.
Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
Bret Jevning, owner of a Lake Edward resort, spoke Wednesday night to a standing-room only crowd during a joint Crow Wing County Board and Planning Commission meeting on planned unit developments in the county Service Building in downtown Brainerd.
When the county's planning commission recently suggested changes in the PUD ordinance, area resort owners heard alarm bells.
Mark Ronnei, chief executive officer of Grand View Lodge, who is trying another resort development, said small resorts are under pressure and commercial density is needed to make projects economically viable. But he agreed the process had to be environmentally responsible.
Ronnei quoted studies showing a resort cabin has seven times the economic benefit to a community than a seasonal home. But he said the loss of lake access to people who cannot afford lake homes is not in the public interest.
"If you are a lakehome owner you are going to say, 'That is exactly what I have in mind: Fewer people using that lake,'" Ronnei said.
Ronnei suggested strict standards on setbacks and responsible development were part of a better approach.
Paula West, Crow Wing County water plan board member, said PUDs are dense shoreland developments and if not done correctly can have an adverse effect on both shoreland and water quality. She said the public has access to lakes through boat landings and are not limited to resorts.
Bret Jevning, who owns a small resort on Lake Edward, said he went through a PUD seven years ago. He said his guests are not going to drive to the area to use a public access.
"The fixed expenses are increasingly getting larger," Jevning said. "What we can charge isn't and now we're talking about tightening what we can do. We are going to be out of resorts -- the small ones."
Liz Martin, Nisswa, was in favor of changing the ordinance to a lesser density. She pointed to Interlachen in Nisswa along Highway 371 as a bad example of development and said the lakes are a treasure the area needed to protect.
"Sadly it's all about money and we need to focus on lakes and not look at the development," she said.
Resort owner Bob Tyson, Nisswa, said: "I think everyone in the room will agree Interlachen is the bastard child of planned unit developments. That is the worst, we can all agree on that."
Tyson said Nisswa has learned a lot since then.
Ronnei, who manages Interlachen, said he understood the reaction to the development but he pointed to his other project next door, Gull Haven, and said that is an example of doing things right.
After the meeting Ronnei said if there had not been that level of concern about potential ordinance changes the meeting would never have received the participation it did.
"I think it was a necessary first step," he said of the meeting. "We are going to come up with a solution that works."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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