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'The Harbor' development advances: East Gull Lake zoning board approves project

EAST GULL LAKE--City Hall was packed to the gills for a discussion of a controversial development on Gull Lake that lasted for nearly four hours Tuesday night.

EAST GULL LAKE-City Hall was packed to the gills for a discussion of a controversial development on Gull Lake that lasted for nearly four hours Tuesday night.

The East Gull Lake Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of a conditional use permit and preliminary plat for the development. Developer Martin Harstad plans to create a 27-unit homeowner's association on Squaw Point Road, called "The Harbor." In addition to the houses themselves, Harstad plans for a literal harbor to be built in an adjacent water channel with a marina consisting of private boat slips for each housing unit, as well as a pool.

Pamela Sachs, a retired Staples-Motley English teacher, has let her horses graze on the land for decades under a gentleman's agreement from the time when her father Lamont had a stake in the property. Since the development plans accelerated earlier this summer, she and her nephew Paul have spearheaded a movement to stop The Harbor on the grounds it would harm the wetland and Gull Lake, including the fishing in the area around the channel.

The contention around the issue resulted in more than 50 people attending Tuesday's meeting, most of whom were forced to stand in the back of the room due to lack of seating. There were so many people that some watched the proceedings from the outside of the building through the open door. A Cass County sheriff's deputy provided traffic control and security.

Harstad said he may donate the land on the southern side of the water channel to the city to create a park, although city staff said it would be illegal to require that as a condition of the permit. He guaranteed that he would allow people to fish from the patch of land. A different stretch of the parcel that runs parallel to the lake will be turned over by Harstad to the city as part of a fee typically required by the city government which developers can pay either with land or money.

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Pamela Sachs did not speak at the meeting, although she did sit outside gathering signatures for a petition against the development.

Paul Sachs spoke at the meeting instead, as Pamela Sachs gets emotional talking about the subject of the land, he said. Sachs said the family may sue the city if the project goes forward.

In interview last week with the Dispatch, Harstad said he would consider suing Sachs if she grazed her horses on the land he owns on the south side of the channel.

City Administrator Rob Mason read a statement on behalf of Pamela Sachs, which challenged each member planning and zoning commission to provide one reason-other than financial benefit-why the development should go forward. The commissioners did not appear to respond to the challenge.

Most of the commissioners' discussion centered on hashing out individual conditions such as driveways and mailbox locations. One point of discussion between the commissioners and Harstad's team of builders and designers was on the uniformity of the houses, with the commissioners wanting consistency among the design of each and the developers countering that the houses would sell better if the buyers could have more freedom.

Final approval of the permitting is up to the city council, which meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6.

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