A proposed boat storage facility in the Cormorant area has been approved after squeaking through the Becker County Planning Commission Tuesday on a 5-4 vote, then winning a thumbs up from three of the five county commissioners.
Tom Holmes, owner of T&T Repair on Otter Tail County Road 20, bought the 2.5 acre lot in a new development, Townline Acres, about a mile east of Cormorant Village. He plans to put up a 60-by-200-foot building there. It will be used to store 35-40 pontoons and other boats over the winter months.
The seller was Elizabeth Wetli, and Brian Wetli, the developer of Townline Acres, asked the planning commission to shoot down Holmes’ request for a conditional use permit, since they intend for the development to be residential, not commercial, and restrictive covenants against commercial development are in effect there.
Holmes said boats will not be repaired on the property and no boats will be stored outside. There will be little to no traffic to the building, because he will bring the boats there himself and return them in the spring. There will be no commercial signs put up.
Holmes said he will not be collecting a storage fee, since it will be included in the boat winterization package, which ranges from $350 to $400, depending on the type of boat.
He will not carry commercial insurance on the building, because customers sign a document stating they are self-insured, and the building will be insured under a personal policy with a rider.
Brian Wetli told the planning commission that they offered to refund Holmes’ purchase price plus commission, since he is clearly mistaken about how the property can be used, and that they never would have sold had they known his plans.
For his part, Holmes said he was upfront from the start with his real estate agent about his plans. He said by covenant each property owner is allowed one dwelling and one out building.
The planning commission and county board generally do not take restrictive covenants into consideration before making a decision, since covenants are between the buyer and seller and are enforced in court, said commissioner Barry Nelson, who represents the Cormorant area on the board.
“I don’t like commercial buildings in residential areas,” he said Tuesday. “But this one, if done and built as planned, nobody would ever know it was commercial. I’m split on this one,” he said.
Commissioner Ben Grimsley asked if there was precedence for taking real estate covenants into account in planning and zoning decisions. “We’re creating a situation where that person (the seller) would have to go to court to remedy our decision,” he said.
“I think we have to put blinders on for covenants,” Nelson said. He cautioned Holmes that he could still end up in court over the covenants even if the county approved his conditional use permit.
It would be one thing if the seller did not object, but “this developer opposes it,” added commissioner Larry Knutson. On the other hand, he said, “we do this all the time, storage buildings are built among residential areas all the time.”
In the end, the conditional use permit was approved 3-1, with Knutson voting no and Grimsley abstaining.