The Becker County Board reversed itself on Tuesday, April 6, and approved an eight-unit RV campground on Big Toad Lake.
Commissioner Richard Vareberg was key to the 3-2 vote, because he voted the other way at the last County Board meeting on March 16. Vareberg admitted that was a mistake that came with being a new commissioner, and said he had meant to make his support conditional on fence screening and other requirements to keep the campground uncluttered for the neighbors.
After that March 16 vote, he helped to rescind the vote and table the proposal until Tuesday.
In the meanwhile, “I was hoping to soften the hearts of neighbors and get a compromise," Vareberg said. "But there is no compromise.”
He joined with commissioners Barry Nelson and John Okeson to grant a conditional use permit for the commercial planned unit development. Richard and Dana Laine will now be able to build an eight-unit RV resort on their property at 20781 County Road 117. The plan includes docks and boat lifts on Big Toad Lake for those eight units.
Their property is just south on County Road 117 from Bambi’s Resort.
Vareberg said he believes strongly in property rights, and also sympathized with the Laines, former dairy farmers who will use the campground to help finance their retirement.
“He’s a dairy farmer, he doesn’t have a 401K (corporate retirement plan), what he has is his land, and he should be able to use it,” Vareberg said.
Commissioners Larry Knutson and Ben Grimsley voted in opposition.
“Nothing has changed, in my opinion,” Grimsley said. “The status quo is keeping this residential. The neighbors don’t want to drive by a commercial development every time they go to and from their homes.”
Knutson said that he doesn't “agree with the findings and I can’t support it.”
The Laines did not attend the meeting, but their attorney, Tom Winters, was there.
Prior to the vote, a number of Toad Lake residents spoke against the proposed campground.
Lori Mitchell noted that the Laines had changed the proposed number of RV units in the campground “from 21 to 14 to eight. He’ll be coming back for more -- I hope you deny the application,” she said.
Yvonne Kangas said property owner Richard Laine has a history of disappointing the neighbors. “I’ve known (him) all my life,” she said. Clean-up efforts are made, but “in the long run, it always falls into disrepair.”
Clark Lee asked the County Board to support its Planning Commission and reject the application. Over the years, he pointed out, “they’ve looked at it seven times and you’ve denied it three times.”
There's not enough difference in the proposal for the board to reconsider its March 16 rejection, he added. “There’s no new drawing, there’s no new narrative, other than attorney Winters saying ‘yes, we’ll put up fencing.’ There should be a drawing that matches the narrative.”
Patty Swenson said the Laines have other options than a campground. “The area is zoned residential -- the lots could be sold for residential development,” she said.
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The county is on the edge of a slippery slope if it approves the campground request, said Deb Nerud, president of the Toad Lake Association. “We know at least one other resident on the lake is waiting in the weeds to see what happens -- if you let this happen, he’ll put in a commercial campground, too. It will affect other lakes in Becker County, too,” she warned.
Commissioner Vareberg, who originally pushed for fencing to screen unsightly areas around the RV sites, said he visited the proposed campground several times and talked to the property owners and neighbors.
He left with the impression that the Laines would face a barrage of complaints on a regular basis if the campground was approved. “He’s going to be called in (to answer to county officials) every Monday, no matter what,” Vareberg said. “Now I don’t want any stipulations on there (the conditional use permit) at all.”
But a number of conditions were added by other commissioners nonetheless, including fencing, tree screening, storage sheds, pets on leashes, driveway access and others, including some unusual ones such as no subletting of property, and a requirement that the RVs be moved back 110 feet from the road, rather than the 95 feet originally planned.
If the Laines opt to move forward with the project, the seasonal campground will operate between May 1 and Sept. 30.
Although it has not often done so in the past, “the county has a very serious intent on pulling this (conditional use permit) if conditions aren’t met,” Nelson warned Winters, the attorney.
As for adding more RV units later, “any expansion of this project will never get my support -- if you could express that to the landowner,” Nelson said to Winters.