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Appeals court sides with Cass County on RV park permit

The Birch Bay RV Resort website states its RV park is set to open this year. A map of the resort shows while six RV sites are closer to the water's edge, most planned so far are located on the far edge of the developed property. Between the RV sites and the lake are horseshoe courts, a volleyball court, baseball field, the inn, cabins, a basketball court, playground and the beach area. Screen grab from Birch Bay RV Resort web site

The Cass County Planning Commission made the right decision in permitting the redevelopment of a golf course into a seasonal RV park, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.

In an unpublished opinion released Monday, the appeals court affirmed the commission's 2016 decision to issue a conditional use permit to Birch Bay RV Resort, located on Agate Lake south of Lake Shore.

"The record before us reveals that the planning commission conducted a very thorough decisional process," the opinion stated.

Issuance of the permit was appealed by the Agate Lake Association and the Gull Chain of Lakes Association, who argued the commission failed to account for environmental and aesthetic impacts on Gull and Agate lakes. Gull Lake is located about 1 mile from Agate Lake. The organizations sought a remand to the commission for further study and preparation of an environmental impact statement, alleging it "abused its discretion because the evidence does not support its decision."

Operated as a golf course and resort since the 1970s, the Birch Bay property was purchased by its current owners with plans to add to its capacity with 170 recreational vehicle camping sites. Located on the property already are 10 cabins and a seven-room inn.

The conditional use permit allowed the first phase of development, which called for 55 sites and a wastewater treatment system, minutes from the planning commission stated.

According to a review of the planning commission's process, the appeals court found it prepared an environmental assessment worksheet, solicited public comments and imposed 23 conditions on the permit as a result of those findings. The commission determined an environmental impact statement was not required in this instance.

Among the conditions imposed on the owners of Birch Bay was allowing no more than 12 motorized watercraft on Agate Lake at one time, limiting permanent mooring, mandating aquatic invasive species inspections, requiring maintenance of vegetative buffers and requiring analysis of the water quality on Agate Lake.

Several of the conditions were imposed in response to concerns raised by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about Agate Lake. The DNR said increased boat use could increase turbidity, increase nutrient loads and lower the water quality and species diversity. The owners of Birch Bay said they would encourage patrons to trailer their boats to Gull Lake or other large recreational lakes, rather than using them in the 150-acre, 8-foot deep Agate Lake.

One issue the appeals court addressed with the lake associations' concerns was the scope of the project. While the conditional use permit allowed only the first phase of the project, those appealing addressed the potential impact of the entire project.

"As required by the planning commission, the other two proposed phases of the project will require separate CUPs (conditional use permits)," the ruling stated. "The planning commission prudently specified that 'information gathered and outcomes observed in the course of the initial phase or phases can be utilized to evaluate (the) subsequent applications' that will only be accepted 'after a two season interval between each phase.'"

What this means is the business must show each phase of its RV park is not causing some of the impacts about which the commission and members of the public are concerned.

The Birch Bay RV Resort website states its RV park is set to open this year. A map of the resort shows while six RV sites are closer to the water's edge, most planned so far are located on the far edge of the developed property. Between the RV sites and the lake are horseshoe courts, a volleyball court, baseball field, the inn, cabins, a basketball court, playground and the beach area.

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