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Swan Lake plat tabled

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WILLMAR -- Approval of a final plat for a housing development near Swan Lake was tabled by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners until Feb. 21, when all the commissioners are expected to be present.

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Only three of the five commissioners were at the meeting Tuesday, with Commissioner Harlan Madsen voicing approval of the plat and Commissioner Richard Falk saying he intended to vote against it. Chairman Dean Shuck didn't tip his hand.

Falk said the land, which is near a shallow lake and wetlands in Kandiyohi Township, isn't suitable for housing.

Madsen said the plat meets the county's zoning requirements. He said the Commissioners needed to either follow their own ordinances or change them, but said he would not support changing rules "in midstream" for the applicants.

Madsen, noting the large crowd of people in the room who opposed the housing project, said he doesn't "count heads" when making a decision and said he intended to support the rights of the property owners, Ricky and Angee Whitcomb, who are proposing to plat the land for six homes as Swan Lake Estates. The land is zoned R-1 residential.

Neighboring landowners, including members of the Swan Lake Hunting Club, said their rights will be violated if the housing project is approved, in part because it will limit their ability to use the land for hunting.

A key part of their opposition is a narrow, private dirt road that leads to the development. Joe Thompson, an attorney representing the hunting club, questioned how an ambulance or fire truck could travel down the path, putting the "health and safety" of the people living in the development at jeopardy.

He said the plat should be denied because the only access to the proposed development is on a private road, with court-granted easements to use the road given to adjacent property owners, which does include the Whitcombs.

Ricky Whitcomb told the commissioners that the easement is transferable if the property is sold. He also said the township can take action to make the road a public roadway.

The township board denied a previous request last year after more than 90 township residents signed a petition in opposition.

Dr. James Tiede, a landowner and member of the hunting club, said if the plat is approved the water quality, wildlife and rights of the "20-year landowners" would be forfeited for the benefit of "one new landowner."

Madsen said the plat meets all the environmental requirements. He said if the hunting club wants to control all the property, they should buy it.

"Mr. Madsen, you play both sides," said Falk, comparing the situation to people who build homes near an existing farm and then complain about smells when the farm expands.

In later comments, Falk said the county's "ag friendly" policy that protects the property rights of farmers should also be used to protect the property rights of the hunting club. He said approving the Swan Lake Estates plat could "come back to haunt" the county for future decisions housing developments that are proposed near farms.

In other action the commissioners:

- Certified easements between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Janine Olson and Richard Swenson for the Olson waterfowl project, located near Sunburg.

- Approved a contract with a new service provider, A'Viands LLC of Roseville, to provide food service at the county jail and the Prairie Lakes Youth Programs. The new contract is expected to save the county $70,000.

- Approved a revised snowmobile enforcement grant from the state Department of Natural Resources. The original grant of $14,403 was nearly double the amount the county was supposed to receive. The county Sheriff's Department was asked to return $6,242 to the state.

- Heard an annual report from the Prairie Lakes Resources Conservation District.

- Approved a special assessment of $19,595.23 against James Gale for removal of buildings near Priam that violated the county's nuisance ordinance. The assessment includes the cost of razing the buildings and paying the landfill fee for disposal.

Johnson outlines legislative issues for board

WILLMAR -- Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, gave the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners a preview of the upcoming legislative session during the County Board meeting Tuesday.

Johnson, who serves as the Senate Majority Leader, discussed state budget concerns, tax relief and key bonding proposals for the region.

There are numerous requests for state bonding money for improvements in the county, including $2.2 million for the Grass Lake restoration project. If approved, Johnson said it would be the largest wildlife restoration project in Minnesota. It would also help improve downstream water quality and provide flood control for areas of Willmar. Johnson thanked the County Board for its "leadership" on the issue.

Other local bonding requests Johnson cited include construction of a new administration building at Ridgewater College, replacement of the dam in New London, development of a dentistry teaching clinic at Rice Memorial Hospital, development of a Veterans Home Board nursing home in Willmar, construction of the new Willmar wastewater treatment facility and continued development of the Glacial Lakes Recreation Trail from New London to Stearns County.

Johnson also said the issue of eminent domain will be debated during the session, especially the need to find a "balance" between taking private land for public use, like roads, and taking private land for economic development.

Johnson also praised the commissioners for their work in the "long and laborious" task of negotiating the sale of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center. He said the sale is an example of "how a private/public partnership can work."

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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