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Swan Lake decision to go before court

WILLMAR -- A Kandiyohi County District Court judge will hear arguments June 7 on whether or not the Kandiyohi County Board of Adjustment should be compelled to hold a hearing on a Swan Lake residential development.

The Swan Lake Hunting Club filed a writ of mandamus last month asking the court to intervene and order the Board of Adjustment to hold a hearing.

The action was taken after the three-member Board of Adjustment voted March 13 to deny the hunting club's appeal without a hearing.

The board claimed it didn't have jurisdiction to hear the hunting club's appeal.

The hunting club includes four men who own hunting land and a lodge near Swan Lake Estates. They have objected to the development since the preliminary plat was approved in 2004 out of concern it would interfere with hunting on their land and cause environmental problems to the shallow lake.

The club members said a "determination" made by Kandiyohi County Zoning Administrator Gary Geer regarding the buildable space on the six platted lots of Swan Lake Estates provided conflicting information to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the Swan Lake Estates final plat in February.

When someone objects to a decision a County Board makes on zoning issues, it automatically goes to District Court.

But Larry Peart, a member of the hunting club, said when an administrator's decision is called into question, state law says the issue is supposed to be heard by the Board of Adjustment in a public hearing.

The Board of Adjustment disagreed, said Geer.

Thomas Anderson, a Willmar attorney representing the Swan Lake Hunting Club, said they'll present information to the judge "about the basic right to have a hearing" before the Board of Adjustment.

Geer said he wasn't surprised that the hunting club appealed the board's decision.

The judge will decide if the Board of Adjustment must hold a hearing on the club's appeal.

Approving plats

Whether or not that happens, the Swan Lake Estates plat may result in some changes in how the Kandiyohi County Board handles preliminary plats.

Commissioners Richard Falk and Richard Larson voted against the Swan Lake Estates plat and are looking for potential changes in how plats are approved.

Currently, the Planning Commission approves the preliminary and final plats and the County Board takes action only on the final plats.

Falk said the commissioners have no input on the preliminary plats, don't hear public comment on the final plat and are "obligated" to approve final plats or risk being sued by the petitioners.

"It's not the proper way to do it," said Falk. He said comments from the public or experts, like Department of Natural Resource officials, "should be a part of my decision."

Geer said commissioners are "not necessarily compelled to approve" a final plat, but they would have to cite a violation of a specific zoning regulation in order to deny the final plat.

The commissioners have asked Geer to examine the platting process other counties use and present options for changing the procedure used in Kandiyohi County.

Fair representation

Earlier this year the county commissioners agreed to change the makeup of the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment to allow fairer representation from all parts of the county.

Currently, the seven-member Planning Commission does not include anyone from the two county districts that are comprised of the city of Willmar.

District 5, in the southern half of county represented by County Commissioner Harlan Madsen, has three members.

District 3, in the northwest part of the county represented by County Commissioner Dean Shuck, has two members on the Planning Commission.

District 4, in the northeast part of the county represented by County Commissioner Dennis Peterson, also has two representatives on the Planning Commission.

Starting next year, a process will begin to bring in new members on the Planning Commission as the terms of others expire. The purpose is to have representation from each of the five districts, including the Willmar districts.

The change will result in a "good cross-section and representation" on the Planning Commission, said Falk.

The Planning Commission hears applications for specific uses of property and bases its decision on approving those uses on county ordinances, said Geer. County commissioners recommend residents from their district to be appointed to the Planning Commission. The appointment is acted on by all the county commissioners.

As a result of changes approved earlier this year, the size of the Board of Adjustment will increase from three members to five members next year.

Like the Planning Commission, the bulk of people currently serving on the Board of Adjustment come from District 5. Of the three members, two are from District 5 and one from District 4. The one alternate to the board is also from District 5.

The Board of Adjustment hears applications from an applicant that wants to vary from the requirements of the ordinance, said Geer. It's not a glamorous job that's sought after by many, he said. Because the board must follow strict ordinances, geographic representation isn't a major issue for the Board of Adjustment, said Geer.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750