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Commissioners amend county zoning ordinance, rezone former Luther Crest camp property

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.

MORRIS, Minn. - The Stevens County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to amend the Stevens County zoning ordinance to allow for potential commercial development on county shoreline and to rezone 53 acres of property along the lake for commercial uses after a short public hearing on Tuesday.

The request to rezone the former Luther Crest Bible Camp property was submitted by current owners B&H Holdings - Jon Backman, Ben Hentges, Peter Hentges, Jackie Hentges. B&H Holdings 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.

Two representatives from the Nyroca Club, a hunting club that owns property neighboring the site, spoke against the proposal at Tuesday's hearing.

Jerry Hertaus, president of the Nyroca Club, argued that the shoreland ordinance passed by the county in 2007 (as required by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) clearly intends to restrict the uses for shoreland property. Expanding local uses for shoreland as proposed opposes the state statute, Hertaus argued.

Hertaus also noted that rezoning the property now would continue to impact the lake if ownership changes.

"What is problematic is that regardless of who the owner of the property would be in the future, rezoning this property simply would allow any use to occur," said Hertaus. "[B&H Holdings'] intentions may be honorable, but that doesn't endure to the next property owner."

Paul Harmon, a member of the Nyroca Club, said although the club supports using the property for events and gatherings, the proposed zoning amendment allows for more people and development than the property has seen historically.

"The economic uses, while important and valuable ... have to be balanced against the purpose of the shoreland ordinance in protecting land and water resources through appropriate use," said Harmon.

After the public comment period was closed, the commissioners quickly moved to approve resolutions in favor of the zoning amendment and rezoning.

Before the vote, Commissioner Jeanne Ennen clarified some concerns: "There's been some misinformation out there that I ask a lot of questions because I'm opposed to something. That's not necessarily true," she said. "This is all a new process for me. I ask questions because I want to learn so I can make an informed decision."

Commissioner Ron Staples thanked Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Kleindl and the Planning Commission for their work on this issue before moving the accept the resolution to amend the Stevens County Zoning ordinance. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Phil Gausman and approved unanimously.

Gausman moved to amend the Stevens County zoning map. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Paul Watzke, and approved unanimously.

After Tuesday's meeting, Sayre, Staples and Gausman said supporting the proposal was a reflection of support for the Planning Commission, who unanimously approved the measures in April.

"We have good people in our community and we need to put some faith into their decisions," Sayre said.

Gausman said he felt comfortable supporting the proposal because of the Planning Commission's decision and that he "could not see any overwhelming need to override it."

Sayre also noted the development is "something Stevens County needs" and "using [the property] for the reasons mentioned" would be a positive development.

Now that the zoning changes have been approved, B&H Holdings will need to apply for a conditional use permit that outlines their plans more fully. That permit will be presented to the Stevens County Planning Commission for consideration.