County board brings back advisory committee

After withering criticism over an RV park established by owners of Bambi Resort on Big Toad Lake, the Becker County Board on Tuesday decided to bring back a planning and zoning advisory committee.

After withering criticism over an RV park established by owners of Bambi Resort on Big Toad Lake, the Becker County Board on Tuesday decided to bring back a planning and zoning advisory committee.

A number of Big Toad Lake property owners were at the meeting, and Clark Lee, head of the Big Toad lake Improvement Association, spoke to the county board and provided a detailed letter to commissioners about past and current issues with Bambi Resort.

Lee said the developers have been "thumbing their nose" at commissioners by repeatedly stretching the limits of the county zoning ordinance.

For example, the county has now authorized 47 overnight dockage spaces for boats, after determining last year that the number would be 18.

To get to that higher number, a parcel with 381 feet of shoreline was added to the original resort parcel. Without that parcel -- which was not part of the original resort -- only 29 mooring site would be permitted at the development.


And the development has installed nine docks, even though the county recommended that it centralize its docking and mooring facilities.

From the beginning, the Bambi Resort development has been problematic, said John Postovit of rural Detroit Lakes -- a former leader of the zoning advisory committee, who spoke to the board during the open comment period Tuesday morning.

"I'm not here to speak about the current boat-mooring issue," he said. "I'll give you some insight as to why Bambi has become such a quagmire in the hopes that future Bambi-like controversy can be avoided."

The developers' original proposal, he said, was to replace the resort's mostly non-conforming cabins and trailers and reduce density on the existing resort grounds west of County Road 117.

"That part of the proposal was not implemented, and I believe that when the developer defaulted on the plan, the zoning department had justification to suspend approval of the project," Postovit said.

"But they failed to do so. We'll never know if there was a real commitment to the improvement plan or if it was just a selling point to get approval of their real plan -- to build a RV park on adjacent, vacant non-riparian land east of County Road 117."

During that period, in late 2007 and early 2008, the Big Toad Lake Improvement Association begin to ask questions, Postovit added.

"The zoning staff became stubbornly focused on defending their original mistaken approval and their failure to act when the developer defaulted on the proposal," he said.


"In frustration, the Big Toad Lake Association turned to the county attorney for a review of the project's approval and status. I was asked to attend a meeting between the parties in mid-2008 and must say it was obvious that the assistant county attorney was not in the least interested in the matter. It was a perfect time for a review and re-evaluation of the case, but again a failure by the county to do so."

Meanwhile, Postovit continued, the RV park got built, became approved by the State Health Department as a separate commercial entity and was being rented on a permanent-occupancy basis.

The county ordinance did not allow rentals on a permanent basis. When challenged, the board imposed a moratorium, then amended the ordinance to allow permanent rentals.

Now another dispute -- watercraft mooring privileges for the new RV park on the existing resort grounds -- challenges another ordinance provision, Postovit said, that which prohibits non-lakeshore development from using lake shore property as an access lot.

"My focus today is on integrity," Postovit said. "The initial decision to authorize the Bambi improvement and expansion project under the "Existing Resort Ordinance provision" was an administrative mistake.

"However, I believe that if concerns expressed in late 2007 and early 2008 would have been accepted with an open mind, this whole series of disputes could have been avoided ... The sad element of this case is that the planning and zoning department became so intent on protecting their original flawed approval decision, they failed to take action when the deviations to the plan and ordinance provisions occurred."

Postovit said that it has been impossible to get an objective evaluation of the case.

"Further frustrating to me is that, although aware of the questionable circumstances of the Bambi project -- at this point, no other county authority has taken the initiative to intervene and mediate the disputes.


"Is it impossible to say 'yes, we may have made a mistake -- let's reexamine and take action to correct it'"?

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Barry Nelson made a motion to reconvene the defunct planning and zoning advisory committee. It passed unanimously.

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