With feedlots and online rental issues pressing, Becker County moves to update its aging comprehensive plan

The county wants firm control over any new concentrated animal feedlots, wind farms or solar farms; has concerns about online rentals; and seeks sharper zoning law enforcement.

Willis Mattison.jpg
Becker County resident Willis Mattison spoke at the Becker County Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.
Nathan Bowe / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — If you’re planning to buy a lake home in Becker County to turn it into a short-term Internet rental, better hit pause on that.

The county is looking to rein-in the proliferation of online rental properties, and it also wants firm control over any new concentrated animal feedlots, wind farms or solar farms.

Oh, and it is looking to put some sharper teeth into enforcement of its zoning laws.

All that will come together in an upcoming revamp of the county’s comprehensive plan, which hasn’t been updated in 20 years.

On Tuesday, the Becker County Board agreed to develop a request for proposals (similar to a bidding process for contractors) to find a consulting firm to help update the comprehensive plan.


The county was caught off guard last year by a proposal for a 3,000 animal-unit pig feedlot in Spring Creek Township, and updated ordinances, as well as an updated comprehensive plan, will help avoid similar surprises, said Becker County Planning and Zoning Administrator Kyle Vareberg.

The county last year approved a one-year moratorium on feedlot applications, but Vareberg said that “we’re just one phone call away from something (else) that could hit home. We’d be in the same position as we were (with the feedlot application). I think it would be a huge benefit for us,” to update the comprehensive plan.

The 3,000 animal-unit feedlot application, by the way, was approved by the county, but is on hold due to action taken by the White Earth Nation, which last year enacted a moratorium on feedlots within reservation boundaries. Spring Creek Township is one of a dozen Becker County townships located on the White Earth Reservation.

Board Chairman Barry Nelson threw his support behind updating the comprehensive plan. “I think we should put out a request for proposals and move forward on this quickly – give our zoning administrator some direction,” he said.

New county ordinances will likely be part of the process, including one governing websites like Airbnb and VRBO, the so-called online accommodation marketplaces that serve both guests and hosts. The websites allow homeowners to periodically lease out their living space and guests to rent a place to stay.

“We should let people know – don’t buy property as an investment for that purpose, because it may be changing,” Nelson said.

“They’re being marketed that way now on (some real estate websites),” Vareberg noted.

“Becker County is a rural county, but it’s a rural county on steroids,” said County Administrator Pat Oman. “Now is the opportunity to strategically manage that growth over the next 20 years.”


The board voted unanimously to move forward on requests for proposals for the comprehensive plan work. But before that, they heard a presentation from Lance Bernard, a planner and associate with the Minneapolis-based firm Hoisington Koegler Group, Inc., or HKGI.

A comprehensive plan is “meant to be a guiding document, a tool that can be used by the board and staff to guide decisions,” on zoning and development issues in the county, he said.

The seven metro counties are required to update their comprehensive plans every 10 years, but for outstate counties it’s just considered a best practice, he said.

“An updated plan covers changes and new trends,” Bernard added. “You want to make sure the plan is clear on how you want to tackle those issues. I could go on and on about all the things you might want to tackle in your comprehensive plan – that’s up to you – but the heart of it is land use decisions, and how you work with your townships. It sets the framing for zoning and capital investment projects as well.”

Topics such as broadband access, housing for workers, maintaining agricultural and rural identity, county parks and natural resources, and flexible regulations, among many other things, are commonly addressed in a comprehensive plan, he said.

Several members of the local Izaak Walton League, including Bill Henke and Willis Mattison, have offered to get involved in the process. Henke was involved in the creation of the existing comprehensive plan, and said he would like to provide input on the update as well. Mattison said that there is a lot of professional knowledge in the group, and he hopes the county takes advantage of it over the course of the year-long process.

Nelson thanked them and said they and other members of the public are welcome to provide input to the consulting firm when one is hired.

What To Read Next
Get Local