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Proposed zoning amendment gets first reading

This aerial map, provided by Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Kleindl, shows the property along Perkins Lake, including the location of a neighboring residential home. The area in yellow is the location for the proposed seasonal campground and the area in red shows the proposed overnight campground.

By Kim Ukura

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on a proposed change to the county's zoning ordinance and a request to rezone a 53 acre property on Perkins Lake to allow for commercial development at their meeting on Tuesday.

The request from B&H Holdings is to rezone the property previously owned by Luther Crest Bible Camp to a commercial site. The owners hope to rent out the existing pavilion and cabins for weddings, family reunions and other events. Their original plan also includes an area for overnight recreational vehicle parking and space for 30 seasonal RV camping sites.

The property is currently zoned S-2: Residential-Recreation District, which does not allow any commercial uses of the property, Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Kleindl told the board. Luther Crest received a conditional use permit in 1992 to operate as a youth camp (which is permitted under the S-2 zone and not considered a commercial use).

Before 2007, the Stevens County Shoreland Ordinance did allow for some commercial uses along lakeshore property in S-2 zones, but those uses were removed when the ordinance was updated to meet minimum DNR shoreland regulations, said Kleindl.

Ben Oleson, a planner and zoning administrator with Hometown Planning, worked with B&H Holdings to develop the language for a proposed new zoning district, S-3: Water-Oriented Commercial District. Oleson said they decided to move forward with a new, commercially-oriented district to prevent commercial uses from being allowed on every lakeshore property.

Commissioner Jeanne Ennen asked whether adopting the amendment would potentially open all shoreland in Stevens County to commercial use.

"Potentially in the sense that any landowner can apply to be rezoned to it," said Oleson. "That's not any different from now when a property owner can apply to be rezoned to a commercial zoning district or a different zoning district that you already have set up in your ordinance."

At Tuesday's meeting, Jon Backman, one of the owners of B&H Holdings, said that after meeting with neighbors and listening to public comments, they have decided not to apply for a conditional use permit for the proposed seasonal campground. However, they still want to pursue seasonal camping and use of the pavilion and cabins.

"We didn't go into this trying to create any hardships for anybody," said Backman. After meeting with neighbors, Backman said he felt there was "overwhelming support" for going forward with the pavilion and cabin rentals.

Michael O'Reilly, a neighbor who owns property surrounded on three sides by the 53-acre site, said that while he appreciated that B&H Holdings had made a verbal commitment to abandon plans for the seasonal campground, the threat for RV camping close to his home still remains a possibility.

"The proposed place of the campsite is so close to [our] residence, I think it's not just inconsiderate but reprehensible," said O'Reilly. "What would you commissioners think if someone was to place an RV campsite directly behind your residence?"

O'Reilly urged the commissioners to limit the permitted commercial uses in the new S-3 zone, stating that the amendment as written goes far beyond the scope of what B&H Holdings is proposing.

John Stevens, a homeowner near Perkins Lake, said the biggest concern he has is that rezoning the property could open it up to development with a large negative impact on the area in the future.

"This has the potential to change all of our lifestyles drastically," said Stevens. The residents of that area made a choice to live by the lake in a quiet setting, and rezoning the property could threaten that lifestyle, Stevens said.

"We put up with bad roads, we put up with plowing snow and all of these other things for that single reason," he added. "By making this change, you're opening it up to some other developer that buys the property already zoned to accommodate whatever he decides to put in."

Tuesday's board meeting constituted the first reading of the proposed amendment and rezoning request, and no action was taken. A notice of intent to enact both measures is published in today's Sun Tribune. The proposal will get a second reading at the board's next meeting, Tuesday, May 15, where the commissioners can choose whether or not they would like to hear more testimony on the issue.

If the amendment and rezoning requests are approved, B&H Holdings will need to apply for a conditional use permit to move forward with their plans for the property.

Other business

• The board authorized Sheriff Randy Willis to move forward on a plan to update the county's Hazard Mitigation Plan, which will need to be completed in 2013. The cost of the plan update is estimated to be between $28,000 and $32,000. The county would need to match 25 percent of the cost, between $7,000 and $8,000.

• The board authorized County Auditor/ Treasurer Neil Wiese to advertise for a part-time elections clerk.

• The board approved a position description for a county Human Resources Director.