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Stevens County zoning amendment remains in place

MORRIS - The Stevens County Board of Commissioners declined to take action on a request from a local resident to reconsider changes to the county's zoning ordinance at their meeting Tuesday, leaving in place a change that opens up shoreland property in Stevens County to commercial development.

Resident Michael O'Reilly, through a letter from Fargo attorney Tami L. Norgard, requested that the county vacate its zoning amendment and initiate an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the former Luther Crest Bible Camp property on Perkins Lake now owned by B&H Holdings. Norgard argued that the decision to change the zoning amendment was rezoning for a specific project and that because the proposed development for the property included a recreational vehicle park, an EAW should have been completed.

Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan told the board that he disagreed with Norgard's assessment and advised the board to decline to vacate the zoning amendment.

Although there is a regulation in place that indicates an EAW is required when building an RV park for more than 25 RVs, representatives from B&H Holdings had indicated they did not plan to pursue the RV park at this time, said Jordan. Therefore, both Jordan and Environmental Services Director Bill Kleindl did not believe an EAW was required.

A subsequent conditional use permit filed by B&H Holdings also does not request to add an RV park, further confirming their intent, said Jordan.

Jordan also disagreed with the assertion that the rezoning only benefited one property in the county as the amendment establishes the possibility that any shoreland property could be rezoned in the future.

At Tuesday's meeting, O'Reilly argued that the board's decision to amend the zoning ordinance "sets the worst possible precedence for future zoning decisions" because the county lacks a comprehensive zoning plan.

O'Reilly argued that the process used to discuss and adopt the zoning amendment was flawed. O'Reilly criticized the Stevens County Planning Commission for voting in support of the amendment despite voiced public opposition at the meeting and for making their decision in only a few minutes with just whispered discussion. He also charged that members of the planning commission met in a non-public meeting and that one member had a conflict of interest.

"This was a decision made for a few by a few," said O'Reilly. "I noticed in the Pledge of Allegiance that it ends, 'With liberty and justice for all.' I think in this case, justice is being denied [to me and my wife], partly because I cannot afford the expense of challenging this in court."

In response, Jordan defended the process by which the zoning amendment was passed.

"Every step of the way, Bill [Kleindl] and I consulted," said Jordan. "We looked at the statutes, the regulations, our own zoning ordinance. To the best of our ability, we tried to make sure the process was sound. I believe it was sound. I can't advise the board on anything other than I believe we did our due diligence and made sure the process was fair."

Legacy Funding for rural Minnesota faces challenge

The board approved a resolution in support of work the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus has done to make changes in the way Park and Trail Legacy funding is distributed that gives more opportunities for rural Minnesota counties to access the legacy funds.

The resolution was provided to the board by the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus (MRCC), and presented to the board by Commissioner Paul Watzke.

Watzke, who served as the chair of MRCC in 2011, said the resolution is in support of the efforts being made by MRCC to make the funding distribution more equitable.

According to the MRCC, the first round of funding in 2009 resulted in 86 percent of all funds being split between the DNR and parks in the seven-county metro area. The remaining 80 counties in Minnesota competed with metro counties for the remaining 14 percent of funds.

In 2011, MRCC and the Greater Minnesota Regional Park and Trail Coalition worked to eliminate a requirement for a 25 percent local match on projects and a $500,000 per project funding limit.