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LWBC Update August, 2014

The Effort to Preserve the Water Quality, Fisheries, Wildlife, and Residential Property Values of Deer Lake Continues

The LWBC Commercial Resort-Complex proposed for Kocemba Bay has created widespread concern due to its close proximity to a Minnesota State Aquatic Management Area and a Minnesota State Wildlife Management Area on Deer Lake.   It is also spot-zoned into a long established residential area.   Furthermore, the declared use is purposely misrepresented as primarily a youth camp, but the youth camp  duration is only 7 weeks annually, while various private adult resort uses can take place all year round.

  • Itasca County Planning Commission has approved the Conditional Use Permit and Preliminary and Final Commercial Planned Unit Development proposed by Living Word Bible Camp (LW), to accommodate a private tax-exempt conference center, adult retreat center, children’s bible camp, learning center and trailer and RV campground. Final approval for this multimillion-dollar project was April 9, 2014.  See Itasca County Website for more details.
  • LW is a 501c3 non-profit organization but has no church sponsors. They will pay no taxes on their 253 acres of prime riparian land with over 3,000 feet of shoreline.  This means that Itasca County taxpayers will subsidize this proposed private resort/conference center. 
  • Don Dewey, Itasca Environmental Services (Zoning) Administrator, publically stated that this is the largest commercial project considered by Itasca County in the last 30 years and yet gave his recommendation for approval of the project while significant required information was missing and without due consideration of the Environmental Assessment Worksheet with subsequent permit conditions. 
  • Itasca County’s May 2013 declaration states the commercial complex “does not have the potential to cause significant environmental impacts”, even though the record clearly indicates there will be irreversible damage to Kocemba Bay.
  • Because this facility will feed and accommodate adults and families in condominium style housing units with living rooms, fireplaces and full kitchens, the “youth” camp proposed by LW is categorized as a Resort by the State of Minnesota; therefore it will require a Resort license along with the youth camp license.
  • LWBC will be a licensed Resort in a zoning district that prohibits Resorts.  LW’s property is zoned “Seasonal Residential”.  The Seasonal Residential zone prohibits “Resort” but allows “youth camp” as a “conditional use”. Conditional Uses are land uses or developments that are not generally appropriate without restriction throughout the zoning district.
  • The Itasca County Planning Commission added land uses that had not been applied for or noticed to the public such as unlimited numbers of camper trailers and RV’s, which significantly increase population densities and intensity of use that are prohibited in the Seasonal Residential Zoning district.
  • The Planning Commission did not limit the resort/conference center uses proposed by LW such as marriage retreats, parenting seminars, university events, weddings, wedding receptions, family reunions etc., with attendant lake and outdoor recreational activities allowed without restriction.
  • The proposed commercial complex will have 150 beds in additions to unlimited travel trailers, with the lodge, office and gymnasium capacity of several hundred, guest populations are unrestricted.
  • LW says they should be permitted because Camp Hiawatha exists. Hiawatha, a church camp, with over 80 church sponsors, on commercially zoned land, was founded decades ago before the residential neighborhood was built up, and has year-round Commercial Zoning, not Seasonal Residential. 
  • Conversely, LW is proposing to spot zone a large commercial complex in a long-established residential neighborhood and in an ecologically sensitive bay that has undergone years of public conservation efforts.
  • Unfortunately, the concerns and suggested restrictions brought to the county by the DNR, MPCA, and several eminent scientific experts are being ignored or inadequately addressed.  These experts have all expressed that this specific lake location and Kocemba Bay are fragile and will sustain significant damage from the recreational activities of LW’s proposed commercial populations.
  • Although the camp has made many promises regarding boating, lake use (including Kocemba Bay and islands near the camp), hours of operation, use of trails and lands behind the development site, etc., all in order to avoid a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, most of these promises apply only during the weeks when the development hosts a children’s bible camp, not during the rest of the year.
  • Despite statements by LW that there are “no plans for future phases or expansion,” the permits contain a loophole to allow additional development without conditions.
  • Itasca County has issued permits without the required detailed engineered site plan that is certified by a surveyor, the required storm water management and phased grading plans, and a complete septic plan which includes all of the buildings and all of the sewage facilities, floor plans of all levels of all the buildings, and heights of each building.  This information, among other things, is required by law and has been asked for by the public for more than a decade.
  • By not adhering to its own zoning ordinance Itasca County did not have the information necessary to responsibly plan construction of this large commercial complex and mitigate all the predicted environmental damage.
  • When drafting the Conditional Use Permit the Planning Commissioners decided that they would rely on LW’s good intentions and promises, rather than imposing conditions required by law.
  • Itasca County relinquished their governmental duty to responsibly define the land use, responsibly restrict future expansions, and responsibly mitigate environmental impacts.  There are no grading plans for the movement and stockpiling of 4500+ yards of soil, no stormwater management plan and no complete wastewater plan.  The project has only 25 parking spaces to accommodate staff, lodging for 150 guests, dining facilities that can serve 300 and any number of travel trailers.
  • Over the years many proactive citizens from Deer Lake and throughout Itasca County have provided donations for the legal defense of Deer Lake.  This investment has produced an excellent legal record containing scientific data to describe potential environmental issues that need to be addressed and how mitigations should be implemented.

Something to contemplate:  If the largest development proposed in Itasca County in the past 30 years, is built in this fragile area on Deer Lake without limitation of populations, without control of land use and without restrictions for future expansion, will you wish you had done more today?

Please consider making a significant tax-deductible contribution to the Deer Lake Management Fund to preserve Deer Lake and to insure proper planning and legally required environmental protection of public conservation areas.  

Mail your contribution to Deer Lake Management Fund, c\o Doug Widen, DLA Treasurer, 36085 County Rd 19, Deer River, MN 56636.

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Living Word Bible Camp Commercial Complex proposed for Kocemba Bay

April 9 LWBC Hearing: At the "Final" hearing for the LWBC approvals on April 9 the Camp unexpectedly asked for yet another delay of the final decision until the May 14th hearing of the Planning Commission.  This was due to their continued lack of sufficient materials, together with new letters from Deer Lake Association members.  Those new letters to the Planning Commission can be found HERE.

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Update March 2014:  LWBC Commercial Complex proposed for Kocemba Bay, a state conservation area on Deer Lake.  There is widespread concern over the location of the proposed commercial complex.

  • Itasca County Planning Commission has approved the Conditional Use Permit and Preliminary Commercial Planned Unit Development proposed by Living Word Bible Camp (LW), to accommodate a private adult retreat center, children’s bible camp, and learning center. Final approval for this multimillion-dollar project is April 9, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.  See Itasca County Website for more details.
  • LW is a 501c3 non-profit organization and has no church sponsors. They pay no taxes on their 253 acres of prime riparian land with over 3,000 feet of shoreline.  Although LW is not open to the public, it is the public who pays their property taxes. 
  • Don Dewey, Itasca Environmental Services (Zoning) Administrator, publically stated that this is the largest project considered by Itasca County in the last 30 years and yet gave his recommendation for approval of the project while significant required information was missing and without the majority of environmental mitigations stipulated in the Environmental Assessment Worksheet. 
  • Although the Deer Lake residents’ have appealed Itasca County’s May 2013 declaration that the commercial complex “does not have the potential to cause significant environmental impacts”, because the record clearly indicates there will be irreversible damage to Kocemba Bay, the appeal will not be decided by the court until later this year. MN law prohibits issuance of permits until after environmental concerns are resolved, nevertheless county staff seems to believe LW should go ahead and build.  
  • The MN Court of Appeals (COA) will hear oral arguments regarding LW’s potential to cause significant impacts on May 7, 2014 in Brainerd MN. The COA decision will be within approximately 90 days after May 7.
  • Because this facility will feed and accommodate adults and families in condominium style housing units with living rooms, fireplaces and kitchens, the “youth” camp proposed by LW is categorized as a Resort by the State of Minnesota; therefore it will require a Resort license along with the youth camp license. Resorts are prohibited by law in this Seasonal Residential location.
  • LWBC will be a licensed Resort in a zoning district that prohibits Resorts.  LW’s property is zoned “Seasonal Residential”.  The Seasonal Residential zone prohibits “Resort” but allows “youth camp” as a “conditional use”. Conditional Uses are land uses or developments that are not generally appropriate without restriction throughout the zoning district.
  • The Itasca County Planning Commission decided to add permissions for weddings and unlimited numbers of camper trailers and RV’s, which will significantly increase populations and intensity of a land use that is already prohibited in the Seasonal Residential Zoning district.
  • LW will also accommodate non-youth camp activities such as marriage retreats, parenting seminars, events for Bethel College students, etc., with lake and outdoor activities till all hours, all but 7 weeks of the year when “youth camp” ratios are “2 adults to 1 child”. The proposed commercial complex will have 150 beds, plus unlimited travel trailers; guest populations are unrestricted.
  • LW says they should be permitted because Camp Hiawatha exists. Hiawatha, a church camp established in 1958, with over 80 church sponsors was founded before the surrounding residential neighborhood was built up, and has a year-round Commercial Zoning, not Seasonal Residential.  Hiawatha is open to the public.
  • Conversely, LW is proposing to spot zone a large private commercial complex in a long-established residential neighborhood and in an ecologically sensitive bay that has undergone years of publicly funded conservation efforts.
  • Unfortunately, the concerns and suggested restrictions brought to the county by the DNR, MPCA, and several eminent scientific experts are being ignored or inadequately addressed.  These experts have all expressed that this specific lake location and Kocemba Bay are fragile and will sustain significant damage from the recreational activities of the proposed commercial populations
  • Despite numerous promises of not causing environmental damage and assurances that LW “has no plans for future phases or expansion,” LW managed to avoid their assurances by writing into the Conditional Use Permit an illegal loophole that allows additional commercial development.
  • Itasca County does not have an engineered site plan signed by a surveyor, the required storm water management and phased grading plans, or a complete septic plan which includes all of the buildings and all of the sewage facilities, floor plans of all levels of all the buildings, and heights of each building.  To date the site plan does not even match the incomplete and unsigned stormwater “concept” of what the stormwater plan might be.
  • By not adhering to its own zoning ordinance Itasca County does not have the information necessary to responsibly permit construction of this large commercial complex or to mitigate all the predicted environmental damage.
  • County staff appears to believe this development should be permitted regardless of legal requirements or environmental impacts. The Planning Commissioners decided that they would rely on LW’s promises instead of drafting adequate, non-discretionary conditions that enforce the environmental mitigation requirements that are mandated by law; that will run with the land and apply to future owners.

Something to contemplate:  If the largest development proposed in Itasca County in the past 30 years is built in a fragile area on Deer Lake without limitation of populations, without control of land use and without restrictions against future expansion will you wish you had done more today?

Over the years many proactive citizens from Deer Lake and throughout Itasca County have provided donations for the legal defense of Deer Lake.  This investment has produced an excellent legal record containing scientific data to describe potential environmental issues that need to be addressed and how mitigations should be implemented.

Please consider making a significant tax-deductible contribution to the Deer Lake Management Fund to preserve Deer Lake and to insure proper planning and legally required environmental protection of public conservation areas and public waters. 

Mail your contribution to

Deer Lake Management Fund, c\o Doug Widen, DLA Treasurer,

36085 County Rd 19, Deer River, MN 56636.