Nisswa: Council rezones environmentally sensitive property between Bass and Roy lakes against wishes of many

Residents cite environmental concerns if development is allowed

This city signs at the roundabout welcomes motorists to Nisswa.

After listening to 12 people, the Nisswa City Council voiced concerns but ultimately approved a rezoning request for property between Roy and Bass lakes on the Gull Chain of Lakes. The vote was 4-1.

The request pertains to a 26.57-acre parcel that the council agreed to rezone from open space residential to shoreline residential.

The approval at the Tuesday, April 20, council meeting was in line with City Planner Brittney Cotner’s recommendation, but against the planning commission’s recommendation.

About 28 people attended the meeting in the council chambers. Of those who spoke, all but one voiced concerns about a proposed development’s possible environmental impacts on Bass Lake. The city also received many letters from people who opposed the rezoning request.

One speaker April 20 - Kevin McCormick with Land Design Solutions - sought to clarify residents’ concerns.


The vote was strictly to rezone the property, not to approve any proposed development. Those discussions and any approvals or disapprovals will come at the next stage of the process.

"The zoning doesn’t make much difference. The lake classification is what is protecting the property right now."

— Brittney Cotner, Nisswa City Planner

Council member Don Jacobson was opposed to the rezoning request. He believed many people still didn’t understand what could happen to the parcel of land if it was rezoned vs. if it was not rezoned.

Cotner told the council the property is developable for 18 units at the open space residential zoning, or two fewer homes if the property wasn’t rezoned.

“The zoning doesn’t make much difference. The lake classification is what is protecting the property right now,” she said.

Bass Lake is a natural environment lake. The Department of Natural Resources classifies lakes, and each classification has rules.

Cotner’s recommendation to approve the rezoning request stemmed from the property being surrounded by shoreland residential zoning, and another rezone in the last five years to shoreland residential. The rezoning request conforms to the comprehensive plan’s land use plan, she said.


Cotner agreed with everyone who is concerned about the environment - wetlands, bluffs and loons need to be protected, she said - and said she would require an environmental assessment worksheet from the developer.

The planning commission had voted to recommend that the council deny the rezoning request, saying it was not in compliance with city ordinance pertaining to the preservation of natural sensitive areas. Only one planning commission member voted against this recommendation.

Susan Oen owns the property; Joshua Savageau is the contract buyer. The land includes a bluff and is heavily wooded with steep slopes to the lake.

An initial council vote to deny the rezoning request failed on a 1-4 vote with Jacobson the only one in support. After lengthy discussion, the council ultimately cast the vote for the rezoning 4-1.

Mayor John Ryan told those attending the council meeting that a lot more discussion will take place at the planning commission level as part of the process. He noted that even without a zoning change, the developer could still build on the land.

The council struggled with landowners’ rights vs. requests that meet city ordinances. Council member Mark Utzinger suggested moving forward with the rezoning request responsibly, relying on ordinances and DNR requirements to protect the environment as much as possible and based on city staff’s findings of fact.

Public safety

Nisswa police officers continue to make door-to-door contacts with residents, according to Police Chief Craig Taylor’s written report. The goal is to complete these visits by June 1. Also, traffic enforcement remains a priority for officers, Taylor wrote.

Drug offenses in the area remain troublesome, he said, and several internet-based crimes have been reported, including two Facebook marketplace scams.


The department completed a body worn camera audit and a report will provide an assessment on compliance and any recommendations.

In March, police reported 264 calls for service, 29 agency assists, 138 traffic warnings, 31 traffic citations, 11 arrests and three criminal citations.

In other business April 20, the council:

  • Heard a presentation from Ryan Schmidt, of Schlenner Wenner & Co., regarding the 2020 audited financial statements. The presentation was before the council’s regular meeting. At the meeting, the council approved the 2020 audit.

  • Approved an agreement with the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District to install a pollinator garden at Nisswa Lake Park. Friends of Nisswa Lake Park will pay $726 toward the cost.

  • Approved a cooperative agreement between the city and DNR regarding a public water access on Nisswa Lake.

  • Approved a pay increase of $1.50 per hour for part-time summer staff at Spirits of Nisswa municipal liquor store.

  • Approved a draft for agreement between the city and Teamsters General Local No. 346 police union.

  • Moved Parks and Recreation Director Amber Moon Peterson off of probationary status. She joined the city in October.

  • Appointed Cam Dorion to the last open seat on the Public Works Committee.

  • Agreed to close Main Street from 9-9:30 a.m. Thursday, May 20, for a small parade for kindergarten and fourth grade Nisswa Elementary School students. Lois Hensel, owner of Loide Oils and Vinegars on Main Street, asked that businesses be notified of any road closings in Nisswa for any reasons.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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