The future of former Driftwood Resort land again went before Crow Wing County officials, but this time with a different purpose and perhaps a more positive outlook for the applicant.
Dan Leagjeld, whose parents previously owned the Ideal Township resort on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, came before the Crow Wing County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment Thursday, June 20, with three requests for property he bought from his parents after the resort closed in 2009.
Leagjeld sought to:
• Amend the land use map to rezone the property from shoreland residential to waterfront commercial.
• Receive after-the-fact variances for five water-oriented accessory structures (sheds) and three decks, where the ordinance only allows one.
• Receive a conditional use permit for a watercraft access ramp for Leagjeld's dredging business. Ramps are not allowed in shoreland residential when a public watercraft access already exists, which it does.
Board members voted to recommend two of the three requests to the county board, with a split vote opposing the after-the-fact variances.
Other Driftwood Resort property was recently the subject of debate, when the county board denied a rezoning request for 7.3 acres to redevelop the resort, despite unanimous planning commission approval. The county board cited water quality concerns and a change in the character of the area as reasons for denying the request.
Land use amendment
The land in question was originally zoned waterfront commercial during the operation of Driftwood Resort from 1959-2009. After it closed, the property was rezoned to shoreland residential when Leagjeld bought the property from his parents, who owned the resort.
Leagjeld's rezoning request would allow him to continue operating his ongoing dredging operations on the 8.7-acre property on the southwest side of Upper Whitefish Lake. Four years ago, Leagjeld took over operations of Mini-Dredge Inc., a company that has served the Whitefish Chain since 1976 and has almost exclusively used Leagjeld's property for lake access during that time, according to a letter to the county from Mini-Dredge President Ron Novak. In his letter dated June 19, Novak said that property has always been used without incident or cost to clients.
Use of houseboats on the property also came into question, as Leagjeld said the county incorrectly identified the watercraft as part of a business. Leagjeld does not own the boats but said he allows the private owners to dock them there, as they have been for nearly 30 years-beginning when the resort was in operation-without a complaint.
Brooklyn Park resident Nancy Nordberg, who said she spends a lot of time on the Whitefish Chain, spoke in favor of Leagjeld's rezoning request, noting he provides a needed service to lake users and only wants to build a private ramp and not big commercial buildings.
"Having a local person that's able to dredge and respond in a timely manner and deposit the spoils in an effective way is of utmost importance," Nordberg, a self-described nature lover, said. "I do believe it protects the property values in that area because nothing would change. It would be the way it's been for 10, 20, 30 years."
Mark LaFon, who lives on Cross Lake said he has known Leagjeld a long time and noted he is meticulous and careful to protect both the people and the environment around the area he works.
Written comments provided to the commission before Thursday's meeting expressed upset at Leagjeld having been using the property for commercial purposes illegally since it was rezoned to shoreline residential and expressed concern about the rezoning lowering property values.
A petition with 67 signatures from Friends of Lower Hay Lake said the rezoning would permanently change the character of Lower Hay.
A letter from attorney Brad Person of Breen & Person on behalf of landowner Bill Termaat stated the allowance of multiple accessory structures and operation of a business on the property would change the area from a "quiet residential setting to something more akin to the channel by the Wharf."
Another written comment with nine signatures supported Leagjeld, saying his dredging services are both needed and appreciated.
Commission members voted unanimously to recommend the Crow Wing County Board approve the land use amendment.
Commission members voted 3-2 to deny after-the-fact variances for the sheds on the property, with Don Hales, Rebecca Best and Rick Skogen citing the county's ordinance of only one water-oriented accessory structure per lot.
Cindy Hidde, of Stonemark Land Surveying, appeared with Leagjeld Thursday and argued he should be allowed at least three accessory structures, as he is allowed one per lot and has three lots. The structures are just congregated into the same place on one lot.
Commissioners Mark Haglin and Rock Yliniemi voted against the denial, with Yliniemi agreeing with Hidde's assessment.
The sheds are used by the five houseboat owners.
Jake Frie, Crow Wing County environmental services supervisor, said in the past the county has only allowed one structure per lot, regardless of whether other lots have them.
"That doesn't mean you can take the other lot allowances and then stick that on the third lot," Frie said. "I understand the perspective here, I'm just telling you how we applied that in the past."
Conditional use permit
The conditional use permit the commission recommended the county board approve would allow Leagjeld to construct a private ramp to use as a lake access for his dredging business. In the past, dredging operations have used the public boat access, which Leagjeld said is a hindrance to the public when users have to wait to use the ramp.
Building his own concrete ramp would ensure dredging continues without hindering the public's access to the lake.
Conditions the commission proposed to impose on the permit include:
• Excavated materials from dredging must be deposited or stored in an upland area, in a manner where the materials will not be redeposited into the public water by high water or runoff.
• Excavated materials should not be permanently placed within community designated floodplain or shoreland areas unless all necessary local permits have been obtained.
• Applicant must follow all DNR water work permit conditions related to dredging, including transport and disposal of materials from aquatic invasive species infested waters.
• Dredging material more than 100 cubic yards must be brought outside the shoreland district unless an approved conditional use permit is obtained.
• Floodplain regulation review of all items considered must be conducted by county staff before approving the ramp permit.
Some of the conditions came from comments Frie said he received from the DNR Thursday morning, asking the commission to ensure there is a proposed area for stockpiling.
"The need for this particular boat ramp is immense," LaFon said during Thursday's public hearing, noting it's better to have someone who lives in the area and has a vested interest in the integrity of the lake to do the dredging than someone from out of town.
Both LaFon and another speaker also noted the inconvenience of Leagjeld having to use the public boat access to launch his equipment, as the ramp is not big enough for Leagjeld's purpose and because it gets in the way of public use.
"He is proposing to build this to stay out of the public's hair," LaFon said, adding nobody wants to wait hours to use a public boat launch.
After the vote, in an effort to quell public opposition, commission member Skogen said, "I know there are concerns out in the public about the use of this land, and I think the ability of this board to impose those conditions should satisfy people that we're doing the best we can to try to make sure that this particular business ... is regulated in a safe manner."
Leagjeld's three requests will be placed on the Crow Wing County Board agenda July 9. The board will consider the planning commission's recommendations but does not have to vote accordingly.
Leagjeld said he is not worried about the planning commission's variance denial. Depending on the county board's action in July, he said he may tear down the sheds and build a communal one for the houseboat owners to use. If the property is rezoned waterfront commercial, he could build a structure up to 250 square feet.