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Protect lakes, keep the ‘plus-20’ setback rule for Becker County lake lots

On Tuesday, the Becker County Board will consider repealing a key provision of the zoning ordinance that protects our lakes from environmental damage caused by placing replacement homes on small lots closer to the water’s edge than the normal setbacks required on larger lots.

Understanding setback requirements is complex, but the current ordinance provides a systematic formula that gives homeowners reasonable options for locating a new home while also protecting lakes from irreversible damage caused by clearing native vegetation and trees, runoff from vehicle fluids on driveways, yard chemicals and fertilizers, and other man-made pollutants.

A packed house of individuals, lake association representatives and scientific experts addressed the Planning Commission during the public hearing on this provision.

Speaker after speaker spoke to the urgent need to protect lakes, including increasing setbacks, and not minimize the critical role setbacks play in preserving water quality.

They were told they didn’t have a factual basis for our arguments, despite facts, figures, charts, petitions and unanimous votes by members of many organizations who do not support repealing this provision.

When questioned, the county was unable to provide the public or Planning Commission members with a fact-based rationale for considering this change beyond “it causes work.”

One citizen who spoke was publicly scolded for pointing out that the public was not allowed to have input in the process leading up to the proposed change, despite nine citizens bringing several ideas to the Ordinance Review Committee for consideration.

Speaking in favor of repealing this provision were two homeowners, one of whom said simply that he wants to build his home in that spot, close to the water’s edge. He offered no scientific rationale or factual basis for his desire, leaving the panel and the audience to question why repealing the ordinance is even on the table.

It was clear to many who attended and spoke that the decision of the Planning Commission was a foregone conclusion, despite all the public objections.

I’d like to publicly thank Planning Commission members Jeff Moritz and Mary Seaworth for their votes to protect Becker County lakes for future generations of visitors and residents.

To all those who care deeply about water quality and Becker County’s legacy, I encourage you strongly to attend the County Board meeting at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 24.

Voice your strong objection to undoing years of statewide leadership in creating a zoning ordinance that gives property owners reasonable options for using their land, while also protecting Minnesota’s public waters for the enjoyment of all.  — Terry Kalil, rural Detroit Lakes