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Commissioners approve Swan Lake plat on a split vote, 3-2

WILLMAR -- The final plat for a six-lot residential development in Kandiyohi Township was approved Tuesday on a 3-2 vote by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

Opponents to the project, including some neighboring landowners, said they'll decide by March 9 whether to appeal the board's decision to the District Court. If the plat for Swan Lake Estates had been denied by the County Board, the developers would have likely appealed that decision, according to the county commissioners who voted for the plat.

The developers said even if the plat had not been approved, residential development would have been allowed. Commissioners Harlan Madsen and Dennis Peterson voted for the final plat. Commissioners Richard Falk and Richard Larson voted against it.

After seeing the 2-2 vote count, Chairman Dean Shuck broke the tie by voting in favor of the plat. In later comments Shuck said he "would've just have soon turned it down" because the site is "not a spot for a housing development."

But he said the applicants followed the county's ordinances and the commissioners needed to do the same.

In comments made following the meeting, Peterson and Madsen explained their vote.

"I figured we had to follow our zoning ordinance," said Peterson.

"If I'm going to have an ordinance, I'm going to follow it," said Madsen, adding that it is "not appropriate" for the county to deviate from the ordinance.

The county's zoning ordinance actually changed from when the developers, Ricky and Angie Whitcomb, obtained approval for the preliminary plat in 2004 and when the final plat was approved on Tuesday.

Under the current ordinance six lots would not have been allowed.

The commissioners were required to follow the ordinance that was in place when the plat was initiated, said Madsen. Even though the Whitcombs didn't seek approval for a final plat until two years after the preliminary plat was approved by the Planning Commission, the new ordinance can't be applied retroactively, he said.

Falk said the two-year lag time was too long, especially considering the changed zoning rules. The current ordinance allows only a one-year time frame.

Falk also said the development is "a bad plat in a bad area."

Larson said he had "six or seven different reasons" for opposing the plat, including safety issues with a narrow road that will provide the only access to the future residents.

Larry Peart, who is a member of the Swan Lake Hunting Club that owns neighboring land, said the club's rights have been "trumped" by the rights of the developers.

Peart is concerned that the presence of houses will prohibit the club's ability to use the land for hunting. The club also allows local law enforcement agencies to use the property for training exercises. He said the water quality of the shallow Swan Lake may also be harmed with the development.

The issue of the road leading to the subdivision may continue to be a sticking point. In a previous lawsuit between the hunting club and the Whitcombs, a judge gave the abutting land owners easement to the private road. There is disagreement among the parties about whether that easement will transfer to new landowners who buy lots and build homes in the subdivision.

There's also concern that the narrow dirt road won't be adequate for emergency vehicles and school buses.

Wally Gustafson, a Willmar attorney representing the Whitcombs, said the road is not a problem and leads to a quieter lifestyle that some desire. "Not everyone wants to live in the shadow of the Foshay Tower," he said.

While it is secluded, Peart said there are some aspects of the Swan Lake area, like questionable soil composition and a high water table, that should make people think twice about building there. "If they like mosquitoes, they'll have good neighbors," he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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