Residents file lawsuit against county over hot-mix permit
WILLMAR -- A group of 21 rural New London residents filed an appeal Friday in District Court against Kandiyohi County, the county Board of Adjustment and Zoning Administrator Gary Geer over a decision regarding a 27-year-old conditional use permit for a hot mix plant.
The group contends Geer's determination was arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious.
The county has 20 days to respond to the summons. County Attorney Boyd Beccue said Friday afternoon he had not seen the document and could not comment.
Wayne Larson, the Willmar attorney for the residents, did not want to comment other than to say the appeal had been filed. He provided the Tribune with a copy of the complaint.
Unlike other legal appeals filed against the county, this one actually has the sympathetic ear of most of the Kandiyohi County Commissioners.
Chairman Richard Larson said he isn't happy the way the case was handled, but since it's now in the court system, he hopes a good resolution can be reached.
"The people out there -- I sympathize with them," Larson said Friday.
The residents are objecting to a decision made by Geer in April, and upheld June 9 by the Board of Adjustment, that a conditional use permit approved in 1981 but not recorded until 27 years later is valid today without any conditions or restrictions.
That decision allows the new landowner, Chad Monson Excavating LLC, to operate a gravel pit and asphalt hot mix plant at an existing gravel pit near Long Lake in northern Kandiyohi County.
Since about 8 p.m. Sunday, crews have been operating equipment at the site, "continuously for 24 hours a day," said Rob Moe, who lives just west of the gravel pit. "On Sunday it was extremely loud," he said. Now it's a constant "hum" day and night, he said.
Most gravel pit and hot mix permits approved by the county restrict the hours of operation to specific times and days.
Since Geer and the Board of Adjustment decided the permit does not include conditions, there is nothing to prohibit Monson from operating rock crushing equipment or a hot-mix plant any time he wants.
Listening to the equipment constantly running was "like rubbing salt in the wound," Moe said.
So far a hot mix plant has not been set up.
Monson was not available for comment Friday.
The residents' appeal is not filed against Monson, however. Instead, the residents lay blame at the county's feet for erring in its decision-making process by not requiring Monson to apply for a new permit.
The saga began in March when Monson did apply for a conditional use permit to operate a hot-mix plant at the gravel pit he had purchased.
But before a hearing could be held, County Commissioner Harlan Madsen recalled that a permit had been approved for the site in 1981.
Monson then withdrew his permit and the hearing was cancelled.
There was no record of the permit; however, Geer found minutes from the 1981 Planning Commission and County Board for a permit issued to a Fred Hegstrom.
The Planning Commission minutes include a list of conditions, but the County Board minutes state only that the permit was approved.
Geer, with the support of Beccue, said since there was no mention of conditions in the 1981 County Board minutes, no conditions are attached to the permit now. Geer said Monson had full use of the permit without conditions.
Residents appealed to the county Board of Adjustment, which agreed with Geer.
In the complaint filed Friday, Wayne Larson wrote that it was common practice for the County Board minutes to state only that a conditional use permit was approved without listing the conditions.
The residents in their appeal maintain that conditions were put on the permit, that those conditions were never met and therefore the permit should be declared invalid.
The complaint also states that a hot-mix plant never operated at the site and the permit should be considered "abandoned."
County Board Chairman Larson said he believes conditions were placed on the 1981 permit "that were never lived up to."
He said he understands that Beccue and Geer "made the decision they thought was right," even if he disagrees with it. "We have to live with that," he said.
If the County Board had been allowed to decide the case, instead of the Board of Adjustment, he said there would have been a different result.
Geer did not return phone calls Friday.
Pending the result of the appeal process, the county could be looking at another legal battle over a gravel pit.
In a separate matter, Geer told the County Board earlier this month that a five-year legal battle over two gravel pits near Eagle Lake had finally ended this spring when the residents in that case failed to file another appeal within the timeline.
In that long case, which cost about $51,000 in legal fees, the county commissioners were firm in their position that they were right.
With a 27-year-old conditional use permit "nipping you in the backside," Larson said, the situation is different this time around.