The Backus City Council tangled with zoning ordinance violations and property safety issues when it met Monday, Nov. 9, ultimately deciding to send the owners of both properties notices requiring resolution to those issues.

Zoning

Neighbors of the Bayside Resort in Backus alerted the council to possible zoning violations ahead of the meeting, prompting a review of zoning for the resort and discussion over possible ordinance violations.

Neighbors say the property has been adding sites for campers, possibly filling in wetland and removing shoreline buffers, all of which, if true, may violate city zoning ordinances.

When last inspected in 2018, the resort, under different ownership, was told it could have four spaces for campers, and that ordinances would not allow the owners to add additional spaces due to the lot size and proximity to the lake. Neighbors report that new sites were added with electricity and sewer pump stations and the resort consistently had up to seven campers.

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Mayor Kurt Sawyer disagreed with a claim that the owner had filled in wetland, saying that class 5 fill had been brought in to fill in trenches dug for the electrical and sewer services, not to fill in wetlands, though some brush may have ended up in the wetland in reference.

In addition, neighbors said renters at the resort had been driving the wrong way on Lillian Boulevard and taking more than the resort's allotted parking spaces, both obstructing the road and making parking difficult for neighbors. They said the resort owner is a good person but they felt it necessary to inform the city.

In addition, neighbors said the owner had been renting the residential home on the resort property, which is also against the city zoning ordinances. The resort itself is located in a residential zone, and only allowed to continue to operate as a resort because it existed there before the ordinance was in place, and under the condition that it operate as it had once the ordinance was finalized.

That includes maintaining the home on the property as a residential building and not a rental building. This same agreement means the property is not a candidate for a variance, which the neighbors would oppose.

The council agreed to send a notice to the resort owner asking him to abide by the city zoning ordinances. Should the owner do so, there will be no additional action.

Rental property safety

The council also reviewed complaints about safety of two rental properties in the city. One property on King Street across from city hall was recently destroyed by fire, but remains standing. The other property allegedly had many gallons of sewer in its basement after lines in the basement were cut.

Both, the council believes, pose serious safety risks.

On the morning of Oct. 27, the first of these buildings caught on fire and was damaged beyond repair. City ordinances require that any building that is 50% destroyed by fire be demolished. It may be rebuilt, but it must then be rebuilt meeting current city ordinances. So far, the building has not been demolished.

As for the building with the sewage in the basement, council member Karl Flier said he does not believe that much sewage, reportedly thousands of gallons, could have backed up in a short period of time. The council could not determine who would have cut the sewer lines in the home or why, but they also could not understand how the backup was allowed to progress as far as it did by either the renters in the property or the landlord.

It was determined that the landlord is responsible for repairs like this; however, if repairs are not made, the city can perform the repairs and bill the property owner. Clerk Ann Swanson said there are protections for both landlords and renters, but in this case those protections were not applied.

The building was occupied with children inside even as the basement was filling with sewage; therefore, Flier believes it is a serious risk to health and safety. The rest of the council agreed.

"Something's got to be done with law enforcement," Flier said.

The issue has prompted the council to research options for enacting a rental ordinance for the city. Other area cities have also enacted rental ordinances, though it is unclear how similar or different this ordinance could be. The council would like the ordinance to lay out requirements for landlords to inspect properties regularly, to maintain those properties for safety and to allow the city to inspect rental properties before new renters are able to move in and upon receiving complaints about the safety of those properties.

The city is awaiting recommendations from the city attorney. In the meantime, the council agreed to send notice to the owner of the two properties requiring action be taken to ensure the properties meet safety requirements set by the city.

In other business Monday, the council:

  • Agreed to allow the fire department to purchase new equipment, including air tanks and turnout gear, with the understanding they might be able to get funding from the Backus American Legion to offset some of the estimated $80,000 cost. The department currently has funds for the equipment, but the full cost would wipe out much of the existing equipment fund. The department tries to replace equipment a little at a time; however, because fire gear is updated often, this leads to compatibility issues.
  • Approved allowing an electrical service line to the city hall and fire hall to be buried, rather than using a power pole. The current connection on an outside power pole is often struck by vehicles, which damages the connection to the fire hall from time to time.
  • Agreed to approve leases of airport hangars. The council also wants notices sent to hangar lease holders informing them that they must be using their leases primarily for aviation purposes and not just storage.
  • Certified unpaid utilities to the city tax rolls.
  • Approved addition of a small sign to the Backus population sign.
  • Approved a lease agreement for a Bobcat.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.