Deer Lake Association
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Living Word Bible Camp and
Itasca County Zoning
Archive of submitted material can be found by clicking on the "LWBC Update 2014" button in the menu to the left.
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.
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.
The Cartoon below appeared in the Grand Rapids Herald Review on Sunday, January 19.
* Letters to the Herald Review about LWBC:
from Tom Brown, DLA past president, here: Letter;
from Maxeiner Family (former property owner), here: Letter;
March 2010 Update
Itasca County Orders an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Commercial PUD proposed for Deer Lake
On Feb. 23rd, the Itasca County Board of Commissioners issued to Living Word Bible Corporation (LWBC) a positive decision on the need for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Data obtained from the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) process determined that the Commercial Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposed by LWBC, located in Kocemba Bay, has the potential for significant environmental effects.
Because Kocemba Bay is a state designated conservation area the proposal prompted an overwhelming response from natural resource managers including MN Land Trust, DNR, MN Pollution Control Agency, MN Department of Health. Several highly specialized scientific experts also responded. The results from the Environmental Assessment process reveal there is potential for significant and irreversible environmental effects and question whether effective mitigation is possible.
Also revealed in the EAW; the proposed project will be a licensed resort which is prohibited in the Residential land use district. Concerns were raised as to protecting residential property rights.
Living Word Bible Corporation has filed an aggressive lawsuit against Itasca County for ordering an EIS.
For Itasca County Findings of Fact click here: ( PDF )
For decades this wildlife area of Deer Lake, referred to as Kocemba Bay and Balsam/Ash Islands has been under ongoing protective and conservation measures with funding by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Deer Lake Association, Muskies Incorporated, , Minnesota Land Trust, and United States Forest Service. Hundreds of citizens have donated funds and participated in projects to protect the integrity and health of this particular area of Deer Lake.
The proposed development will change the land use from one single family seasonal residence on 3,000 ft of shoreline in a Seasonal Residential zoning district to a large densely populated private resort, bringing a high intensity land use and surface water use. Several limnologists, hydrologists, and scientific experts have responded with concerns that this area of Deer Lake, an ‘Oligotrophic’ lake exceptionally sensitive to impacts, could not sustain a large development of this nature.
Kocemba Bay is recognized as an important fisheries habitat and a designated Minnesota State Aquatic Management Area. Deer Lake presently has an excellent “heritage” muskellunge population sustained exclusively by natural reproduction, which is rare in the state of Minnesota. The proposed project would have an intensity of use that could not be supported on this site according to professional resource managers. Residential uses, which have not impacted the area, would be the best development alternative following best shoreland practices that are now incorporated in the zoning ordinance.
The Ash/Balsam Islands in Kocemba Bay are designated a Minnesota State Wildlife Management Area due to the critical habitat and nesting area of protected species both game and nongame. Boat traffic and noise associated with the proposed development has the potential for significant environmental effects.
The project proposer did not submit sufficient data to effectively mitigate the significant environmental impacts resulting from the proposed project. Therefore the EAW could not adequately address many complex technical issues, and has a high number of unanswered questions. Subsequently, the project proposal easily merits an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Just a few of the technical issues surrounding this proposal include:
The primary purpose of the EAW is to determine if an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is needed, not to accomplish the technical study itself.
There is a high number of significant questions, issues and concerns left unanswered with the proposed CPUD and will require the level of analysis that comes with an EIS. If there is potential for significant environmental impact from a proposal, such as this proposed CPUD the law clearly tells us that the County must order an EIS.
Itasca County Officials and contact information:
Itasca County Environmental. Services Administrator
123 NE 4th Street
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Itasca Count Board of Commissioners:
(copy and paste the email addresses into your email to the Board)
Davin Tinquist (District 1: southern part of Deer Lake)
Terry Snyder (District 2: northern part of Deer Lake)
Itasca County Coordinator:
Update on the proposed Commercial Planned Unit Development (PUD)
by Living Word Bible Camp in Kocemba Bay
In June 2008 the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court ruling requiring the completion of the Environmental Assessment Worksheet and the Environmental Impact Statement process (EAW/EIS) before building permits can be considered for the proposed Commercial Planned Unit Development on Seasonal Residential zoned property in a well established neighborhood in an environmentally fragile area on the east side of Deer Lake.
Illegal SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) initiated by the developers, Living Word Bible Camp, personally suing the neighbors to the north and south were dismissed because there was no evidence to support their claims.
“A SLAPP suit or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation is a frivolous or malicious lawsuit or lawsuits brought on by wealthy individuals or corporations against individuals or nonprofits and social advocacy organizations for the purpose of harassing and intimidating them in order to "shut them up." One goal is to use the court system to sue opponents out of existence.” (Amongst all the crimes of Straight, is Mel Sembler using the courts to silence his opponents? by Wesley Fager (c) 2003)
Before building permits can be issued or considered by Itasca County Planning Commission the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) must be prepared and submitted by the developer. A 30-day public comment period follows concluding with a public hearing and a determination by the County Board whether or not an Environmental Impact Statement is warranted or necessary.
Click here to read the citizens petition on court record listing the concerns. “Citizen Petition for Environmental Assessment Worksheet”
Check the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board website for more information describing the Environmental Assessment Process. http://www.eqb.state.mn.us/documents/2008%20Guide%20to%20Mn%20Env.%20Review%20Rules.pdf
Deer Lake residents have filed two basic appeals with Itasca County to encourage the county officials to follow their own laws and their own comprehensive land use plan. Deer Lake residents are opposed to commercially developing the residential property in a designated fragile area of Deer Lake and are strongly supported by hundreds of residents who see this as precedent setting for future development of Itasca County. The location of the proposed development is the main issue of concern.
Retaining residential zoning and residential development would comply with county zoning laws, the comprehensive land use plan, and which scientists and land use experts agree would be more protective to the fragile bay and public waters as well as to the health safety and welfare of the surrounding neighborhood.
One appeal was the rezoning of residential property in a well-established residential neighborhood to accommodate the building of a large commercial complex (Spot zoning) bringing in a large recreational population density. The other appeal was to implement a merited Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on a Commercial Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposal that was found to meet the mandatory threshold in more than one area. (This involved filing 3 separate actions: EAW, preliminary Com PUD, and final Com PUD) It was followed by three sets of illegal personal suits against the neighbors to the north and south filed by Living Word Bible Camp. (SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)
Long before the developer purchased this property, the fragile bay surrounding it has gone through years of conservation efforts by the DNR, Muskies Inc, and the Deer Lake Association. It is a designated State Aquatic Management Area and critical spawning and nesting area. The many small islands within the shallow bay are a designated State Wildlife Management Area and critical habitat for protected species. It is a documented environmentally sensitive bay that is still undergoing scientific studies due to its unique and diverse qualities.
The property proposed for this recreational commercial complex is undeveloped virgin land with only one seasonal home between a large wetland and the lake. The previous property owner placed 1200 shoreline feet and 80 acres of this parcel in a conservation easement through Minnesota Land Trust. An additional 6 homes could be built along the lake, anything more than that would require county approval and the public hearing process.
District Court Orders Environmental Assessment of Commercial PUD Project On Deer Lake
On April 27, 2007 Judge Maturi ordered an Environmental Assessment/Environmental Impact Statement process be completed on the Commercial Planned Unit Development (PUD) project for adults, families and children proposed by Living Word Bible Camp (LWBC) located in Kocemba Bay. The project proposes a 70,000+ sq. ft. complex with 150 beds and unlimited populations of daytime and camping use with the possibilities of expansion simply through additional building permits.
The proposed recreational complex is located in an environmentally sensitive area on Deer Lake and is encompassed by a fish spawning area recognized by the MN DNR as a State Aquatic Management Area and State Wildlife Management Area due to the loon nesting and critical habitat of protected species. The DNR claims damage to these areas by increased use of canoes, kayaks, fishing boats and pontoon boats proposed by LWBC can occur anytime the ice is off the lake as well as increased use of the shoreline.
The judge’s ruling is consistent with the concerns expressed by many Deer Lake residents and scientific experts. Several limnologists and other scientific experts as well as professional resource managers have voiced their opposition to this project. The vast wetlands in this area are extremely critical to the water quality of Deer Lake.
Among those expressing concerns was Gunny Gunsolly, President Emeritus of the Deer Lake Association. She wrote:
“Almost seven years ago a rezoning request was filed in order to build a commercial development on land that was zoned residential - it was and always has been a zoning issue. At a special meeting of the Deer Lake Association, the vote was overwhelmingly to oppose the zoning change. Actually, the whole thing has never been about a bible camp or any other kind of children's camp as I doubt if there are many, if any, residents on Deer Lake who oppose a children's camp (especially me, since I owned Sherwood Forest Camp for Girls for over 40 years).
This is about the environment and the great need to protect Deer Lake. Twenty years ago, I doubt if any of us ever thought that anything could happen to beautiful Deer Lake. Well, that is no longer true and as is stated in this article numerous times, the land in question here is one of the most fragile areas of Deer Lake, wildlife, spawning area, etc. etc. And, we must do all we can to not only protect Deer Lake but to protect this particular area.”
Al Cibuzar, A.W. Research Labs, gave a presentation to Itasca County depicting the streams, springs and large wetland areas and how they correlate to the site plan. He also demonstrated how the site plan is out of scale and voiced concern that the buildings will not fit on the 23-acre shoreline-building site. He strongly attested thatstorm water erosion plan is inadequate and will not protect the lake.
“Deer Lake is classified as ‘Oligotrophic’ meaning exceptionally high inquality and exceptionally sensitive to impacts. Land use changes will result in increases in runoff volumes as well as increases in the kinds and amounts of pollution carried in the runoff. There are some measures that will minimize these increases in pollution, but there are no measures that will totally eliminate the increases.” Dick Osgood: Limnologist, Aquatic Ecologist/Geologist
“Habitat destruction occurs from boating and high-use rates. Septic systems set back from the lake only mean the phosphorus takes a longer time to get to the lake. It will get there. No free lunch. Limnologists have known for 40 years that lakes’ water quality declines directly as the number of people in the watershed increases, that the changes occur slowly and can be irreversible, and that lakes like those in Itasca County are particularly susceptible to degradation.” John A. Downing, Ph.D., Iowa State University
“The relationship between human development and lake water quality is well quantified by the science of limnology -- lakes with moderate development will retain their clarity whereas lakes with Planned Unit Developments will be degraded by excess nutrients.” Jack JonesProfessor of Limnology, University of Missouri
“Any type of development will have a negative impact on these resources, however, the proposed development is likely to have a much greater negative impact than single family homes and we recommend this Conditional Use Permit should be denied.” Chris Kavanaugh DNR
Another concern is the mismatch between the proposed development and the Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which is the legal basis for land use decisions. The location of the proposed development is not compliant with the Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which encourages recreational opportunities and resort development, however the plan “discourages commercial development of lakeshore, and encourages commercial development in existing commercial areas and designated areas with adequate transportation, sewer and water infrastructure.”
Fact: The zoning ordinance only permits 6 or 7 seasonal homesalong the lake. Anything else requires an extensive public hearing process with input from all the state and local agencies. Scientific experts and professional resource managers prefer residential development to commercial development for lake protection. It is far more restrictive and less densely populated and lake use is much less intense.
The Mission Statement of the DLA states that the organization will act to “provide leadership to preserve and maintain the high quality of Deer Lake, the surrounding land and community.” Both the full membership and the Board, have passed motions stating that as an organization we were, and remain opposed to zoning and land use changes that would have a negative impact on Deer Lake. Only to this extent does the DLA support the litigation contesting a commercial venture into what has always been a residential zoning on the lake. The DLA serves only as a conduit for specially designated funds coming from members and others. No general funds or dues of the DLA have been, or will be spent on this litigation. The litigation itself has been pursued by individuals independent of any role they might play within the DLA. The DLA is not a party to any litigation.
Archive of Past Postings on this Issue
Itasca County Planning Commission after three public hearings recently made the decision to allow the Living Word Bible Camp to build a youth camp/adult retreat center on the northeast shore of Deer Lake. This will be built out, in the first stage, at more than 70,000 total square feet, concentrated on the first two tiers of shoreland and will be one of the largest commercial developments in Itasca County.
The following outlines the questionable details of the recent decision to allow a Conditional Use Permit for a Commercial Planned Unit Development (PUD).
Itasca County Planning Commission adopted the Final Plan for a Commercial PUD with:
Al Cibuzar, A.W. Research Labs, gave a presentation that showed the streams, springs and wetlands and how they correlate to the site plan. He also demonstrated how the site plan is out of scale and voiced concern that the buildings will not fit on the 23-acre building site. He strongly attested that the storm water erosion plan is inadequate and will not protect the lake. Deer Lake is classified as ‘oligotrophic,’ which is exceptionally high quality and exceptionally sensitive to impacts.
The proposed development is located in an environmentally sensitive area on Deer Lake. It is adjacent to a fish spawning area recognized by the MN DNR as a State Aquatic Management Area and State Wildlife Management Area due to the loon nesting and habitat of protected species. Damage to these areas by increased use of canoes, kayaks, fishing boats and pontoon boats proposed by LWBC can occur anytime the ice is off the lake.
The location of the proposed development is not compliant with the Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which encourages recreational opportunities and resort development, however the location of such development is very specifically stated throughout the document. See “Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan” for details; relevant excerpts can be found below. In their findings the Planning Commission approved the project citing some isolated details from the Comprehensive Plan, but fully ignored those quoted below with no reasons given why these explicit passages should be over-ruled by those more vague.
The most interesting remarks came at the very end of the hearing when Planning Commission Chairman Byron Snowden gave his personal reasons for wanting a bible camp. It was because, he said, the property can never go back to the way it was, a single home of 280 acres, and that he” prefers a camp ”over a residential development. Mr. Snowden should know the zoning ordinance only permits 7 seasonal homes without public hearings and input from state and local agencies. He purposely forgets that he himself would be in control of any other applications. Thus the Chair based his reasoning on assumptions and predictions of the future that had nothing to do with the merits of the case, except that it was not residential.
Fact: Residential development is by far more restrictive, less densely populated, preferred by scientific experts and professional resource managers for lake protection.
The good news is that the battle is not lost! Concerned citizens supported by residents from around Deer Lake and the surrounding communities have filed appeals to prevent these illegal decisions from becoming a reality.
Help is needed to fund these legal battles and to protect the water quality, wildlife, residential nature and integrity of Deer Lake and future lakeshore development throughout Itasca County. Send your tax-deductible contribution to the Deer Lake Management Fund, 9042 Sutton Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 55347
The Mission Statement of the DLA states that the organization will act to “provide leadership to preserve and maintain the high quality of Deer Lake, the surrounding land and community.” Both the full membership and the Board, have passed motions stating that as an organization we were, and remain opposed to zoning changes that would have a negative impact on Deer Lake. Only to this extent does the DLA support the litigation contesting a commercial venture into what has always been a residential zoning on the lake. The DLA serves only as a conduit for specially designated funds coming from members and others. No general funds or dues of the DLA have been, or will be spent on this litigation. The litigation itself has been pursued by individuals independent of any role they might play within the DLA. The DLA is not a party to any litigation
Relevant Passages from the
Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan
p.2) The Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan is “the legal basis of land use controls,” and requires that “land use ordinances and programs must be consistent with the adapted comprehensive plan.
p.11) Natural Resources Goal – Respect the unique settlement characteristics of each area of the county. 1. Low density outside urban areas – Limit development outside of urban expansion areas to very low densities through zoning.
p.12) Housing and Settlement Goals
Lakeshore Development objective - AREA 2 Encourage new lakeshore development as single-family homes. (Deer Lake is in AREA 2) “require large buffers between lakes and any allowed cluster developments.”
p.16) Recreation Industry Objective – Resort development standards – Create standards for resort development or expansion linking development to existing infrastructure capacity; the preferences of Planning Area residents; and the environmental risks posed by development on lakeshores. New types of lodging- Encourage new types of lodging such as Bed