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CUP denied for Bolton Bay RV Park

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that four of the five county commissioners voted "no" on seven of the findings of fact, thereby denying the conditional use permit.

The Hubbard County Board denied a conditional use permit (CUP) for a controversial RV campground on Long Lake.

Chris Bolton requested a CUP to operate Bolton Bay RV Park, with 14 camping sites on five acres located at 18080 Emerald Island Circle, the northwest side of Long Lake.

Last month, the Hubbard County Planning Commission — on a 3-2 vote — narrowly recommended approval of the CUP, including 16 proposed conditions.

County commissioner Vern Massie said he spent about 40 hours looking at the evidence and meeting with various individuals. "I've not taken this project lightly," he said.

"Currently, it looks like a nice, little park," Massie said, but expressed concern that clearing for sewage and electric lines will kill trees and change the topography. "I'd like to see an engineering plan for that road and sites."

County commissioner Char Christenson agreed, adding she lives near a campground and she believes Bolton's RV park has inadequate parking.

With only eight permanent boat slips in the plan, county commissioner Dan Stacey asked Bolton what he'll do if the other six campers want to bring a boat.

"It'll be the same thing as Spruce Hill (Campground). It's first-come, first-served there for mooring. Same with Cedar Shores (Resort). They've got limited spots," Bolton said. "It's a simple thing."

Reservations will likely be made in January and February — well in advance, Bolton continued. Those without a boat slip "will have to do what I did until I lived on the lake. Put your boat in, enjoy the lake and take your boat out."

With 40-foot wide campsites, Bolton said there is plenty of room for a boat alongside an RV. The public access is also within walking distance of the proposed RV park, so Bolton said he'd encourage campers to park there.

Bolton noted that Breeze RV Resort has 125 campsites on a much smaller lake.

Christenson said Bolton's park is different from Breeze because his lake access is in a sensitive marshland. "So, to me, that adds another layer of what we have to consider," she said.

Christenson noted that Bolton promises to enforce good boating practices among his camper, but he was cited for illegal clearing of aquatic vegetation.

"So how can I trust you when you say you're going to be a good steward?" she asked.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area hydrologist Darrin Hoverson said the hydro-jetting occured this year. Bolton paid the fine, and the area is to be left to regenerate.

Bolton asked the board to remove the condition forbidding campfires after 11 p.m.

"That seems unfair to me. There's not another campsite, resort or campground in Hubbard County that has those kind of rules and restrictions," he said. "I don't want preferential treatment. I just want it to be a fair playing field."

He also asked the board to eliminate the condition prohibiting any seasonal RV to be used as a vacation rental by owner (VRBO).

"Private property rental accommodations are not regulated by Hubbard County or by the state of Minnesota today. Unless the state or county creates regulations for all VRBO activity, I shouldn't be singled out and denied this option on my property," Bolton said.

Thr issues people have with VRBOs, he continued, are septic overload, no state inspections and excessive noise from partying

"Septic overload wouldn't be an issue in my RV park," Bolton said, noting that his commercial septic system will comply with health and pollution control standards. Water inspections will be performed annually. As for noise, Bolton said he will live onsite and monitor all activity. "Quiet hours will be enforced."

Christenson agreed that some of the conditions are unenforceable and "you are singled out, so I'd have to agree if we decide to approve, the conditions would need to be reworked; however, the bigger issue of your park, to me, is the lake access in the marshland."

Bolton replied that the DNR configured an extended dock system that "would not hurt the ecological system them and make it work very successfully for everyone."

"Anybody on that lake can use the wetland," Johannsen noted.

Bolton said it's a popular spot for largemouth bass fishing.

Stacey stated he was concerned with "the whole gamut."

County commissioner Ed Smith said he'd like to see a cross-sectional plan that includes elevations, topography, retaining walls, etc. He noted that Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf estimated 400 dump truck loads, or roughly 4,000 yards of material, will be moved around on the property.

Neighbors speak out

Opponents of the RV park had the opportunity to voice their concerns at Tuesday's board meeting.

Long Lake resident Bruce Johnson urged the board to deny the CUP. "Long-term, if it's bad for the swamp, it's bad for the lake. If it's bad for the lake, it's bad for Hubbard County. We've witnessed willful destruction of the ecosystem adjacent to our property. It's well-documented."

Sharon Natzel, a private citizen monitor and resident on Long Lake, noted studies have shown the lake is listed in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) Crow Wing River Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAP) as needing "full restoration."

"Long Lake is also listed as one of the top 200 lakes in Minnesota for phosphorus sensitivity. As others before me spoke, it's the wrong location for an RV park," Natzel said. "The bay is very shallow. It's 1-foot deep in most areas. We know that wetlands help clean the lake. We don't want it to become a polluter because of the inappropriate use of eight boats going in and out."

In addition, Natzel said an MPCA study shows that water clarity has decreased by .8 feet per decade from 1982 to 2011.

Kerry Cashman kayaks and canoes in the marshland area. The "broad swath" that had been illegally cleared has already impacted water clarity in the marshland area, she said.

Clifford Sweeney said the proposed campground "is going to mean nothing but trouble. There's a whole lot of room in Hubbard County to put an RV park. You don't have to put it in the middle of a wetland."

Chamber President Butch De La Hunt spoke in favor of the park's positive economic impact on Hubbard County. Most campgrounds have become seasonal sites, resulting in little access for a weekend or week-long stay in Park Rapids. RVs are "absolutely a growing industry and absolutely are vital to our growth," he said. "RV parks are important to us. We are behind other counties that are doing more and more parks."

CUP process

County commissioners could approve, deny or table the application for more information, according to Buitenwerf's board report. Bolton's application was submitted Aug. 27. Minnesota Statute requires action on the application with 60 days of submittal, unless the the board gives the applicant written notice within the 60-day period that it is extending its review of the application to obtain additional information.

The board also had the option to edit, add or delete the planning commission's recommended conditions and findings of fact. "Conditions are used to mitigate any issues identified during the public hearing process and ensure that the use operates in the manner presented in the application," Buitenwerf wrote in his report.

Prior to voting, commissioners answered 12 findings of fact questions. All the findings must be answered affirmatively in order to meet the legal criteria for approving a CUP application, Buitenwerf said. To disapprove the CUP, the board did not have to answer "no" to all of the findings of fact.

All commissioners answered "yes" to these five questions:

• Is the site location reasonable in relation to any floodplain and/or floodway of rivers or tributaries?

• Is the requested use compatible with adjacent land uses?

• Does the requested use have a reasonable need to be in a shoreland recreation?

• Is the amount of liquid waste to be generated reasonable and the proposed sewage disposal system adequate?

• Will the visibility of structures and other facilities views from public waters comply with Section 901 of the Shoreland Management Ordinance?

With the exception of Johannsen, commissioners answered "no" to these seven questions.

• Is the requested use consistent with public health, safety and welfare?

• Is the requested use consistent with the goal of preventing and controlling water pollution, including sedimentation and nutrient loading?

• Will the requested use not adversely affect the site's existing topography, drainage features and vegetative cover?

• Has the erosion potential of the site based upon the degree and direction of the slope, soil type and existing vegetative cover been adequately addressed?

• Is the site in harmony with existing and proposed access roads?

• Is the site adequate for water supply and on-site sewage treatment systems?

• Are the affected public waters suited to and able to safely accommodate the types, uses and numbers of watercraft that the use will generate?

While the county planning commission stated the Shoreland Management Ordinance allows the proposed use on a recreational development lake, Massie said the residential location was not suitable for an RV park. Stacey cited excessive traffic as a public safety issue, along with the park being not in harmony with the neighborhood.

Johannsen said the RV park had nothing to do with public health, safety or welfare. "I can't see where you can come up with any of those issues," he said to fellow commissioners.

Christenson stated there wasn't a detailed, professional stormwater management plan in place.

Johannsen referred to the the planning commission minutes, where it's noted an existing driveway serves as a natural, stormwater catchment berm.

Massie speculated that the tree cover will no longer exist.

Bolton plans to use terracing to prevent erosion. He described it as a dirt moving project, not a tree removal project. He further argued that Park Rapids needs to be pro-business or visitors will go to other communities.

Stacey expressed concern about Long Lake's phosphorus sensitivity.

Christenson made the motion to deny the CUP. Stacey seconded. The motion passed 4-1, with Johannsen opposed.

If Bolton wishes to challenge the board's decision, he would need to file with the Minnesota Court of Appeals.