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Developer sues county over number of boat slips

A lawsuit against Becker county by the developer of Sandy Beach Estates on Lake Melissa is headed to mediation.

The developer, Paces Lodging Corp. of Fargo, says it needs about 30 dock slips to make the development successful, but Becker County ended up granting permission for just six slips, according to the county's attorney, Jay Squires, who works for the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust, which is handling the lawsuit on behalf of Becker County.

"The developer is challenging the number of mooring slips the county allowed," he said in an interview. "The developer thinks they are entitled to (mooring slips) in the twenties to thirties range and the county allowed 5 to 6."

Squires was in his car during the interview and didn't have access to the exact number of slips the developer is requesting. A copy of the civil suit is not yet on file at the Becker County Courthouse. A phone message left on Paces Lodging Corp. answering machine was not returned.

The county zoning office made its decision on the number of slips to permit after reviewing its regulations and consulting with the Department of Natural Resources.

Also, Squires said, the lakes Sallie-Melissa association has intervened in lawsuit and is a party to it on the side of the county.

He said the lawsuit involves differing interpretations of how county ordinances and DNR rules apply to the development.

For example, the development is on Lake Melissa, a general recreation lake, but it also falls within the shoreland zone of Mill Pond, a natural environment lake with much stricter rules on development.

"It's not unusual for a piece of property to be within more than one shoreland district," Squire noted.

The mediation session is set for Wednesday in Fergus Falls. It is nonbonding, Squires said.

"Any mediation that would involve even tentative settlement would have to go back to the county board for approval," he explained.

The development has been at least four years in the making and has undergone some major revisions. But the final plat, agreed upon by the developer and the county's Environmental Assessment Worksheet Committee, provides permanent protection for sensitive shoreland and wetland areas by deeding vulnerable areas to the Pelican River Watershed District and providing conservation easements and protection zones.

Mark Payne, who represents Paces, said in an earlier story that he was satisfied with the EAW process, in which a committee of environmental experts helped the county board assess concerns with the development.

"The bottom line is, we went to great lengths to address all their concerns, and we pretty much addressed them," Payne said. "We will be deeding over a lot of property to the watershed, the DNR and (the Becker County) Soil and Water (Conservation District) to address those concerns."

The EAW Committee and county commissioners all seem "real comfortable with all the steps we've taken to address concerns," Payne added.

The county board voted unanimously in 2004, at the recommendation of the EAW Committee, not to require Paces to complete an environmental impact statement on the proposed site.

The development may be an improvement over the original proposal, but still falls short in key areas, said Hattie Larsen, a Lake Mellissa resident who informally represents the Lake Mellissa and Sallie Improvement Association, in an earlier story.

"A good portion of the land is sensitive," she said. "They are still proposing lakeshore lots on Lake Mellissa, they are still planning to build precariously near wetlands -- those lots are still questionable."