New Board of Adjustment grants variances

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

After several months of inaction, Houston County’s Board of Adjustment had three variance hearings to consider on Thursday, March 23. That session was followed by another featuring the Houston County Planning Commission.

The 2017 BOA boasts two new members on its panel of three. Larry Hafner is the sole representative who served last year. He was elected chairman. Former county commissioner Dana Kjome joined the BOA as vice-chair, while new member Kenneth Visger was also on hand to weigh in on the variance applications.

The BOA granted all three zoning variances.

The first will allow Robert Witt of Mound Prairie Township the right to build a dwelling by shaving off five feet of a 50 foot setback requirement from a property line, as well as allowing an 820 variance off of a 1320 foot setback between the home and an existing feedlot. That raised concerns from some neighbors involved with the feedlot operation, who questioned whether the home could limit future increases in the number of animals allowed on site, and might occasionally make access to the operation a challenge.

The second variance (eliminating 25 feet of a 50 foot setback) went to Peter Shimshak, also of Mound Prairie Township. The document confirmed that the petitioner will have no future zoning difficulties with the location of a home which got its building permit back in 2006. Shimshak has also obtained a Conditional Use Permit for the dwelling. In addition, Shimshak will likely become co-owner of adjoining land since he is part of a trust that holds the property, zoning administrator Aaron Lacher reported, so “It is staff’s opinion that a CUP and a variance are not absolutely necessary.”

Mark and Sonia Lager of Brownsville Township were granted a 25 foot variance to meet a 25 foot setback from the toe of a bluff to build a dwelling. The lot in question (platted in 1981) is part of the Spring Hills Addition, and predates the 1993 setback requirement. Since the building plan specifically takes into account the topography of the lot, and other homes of similar design have already gone up in the subdivision on similar parcels, granting the variance “in the interest of justice” seemed permissible, Visger stated.

“From my perspective, you still have to meet all of the requirements for a building permit… so good luck, because it’s going to be  a challenge for you,” he noted. “It would be an injustice to deny you a variance on this.”

Lacher said that the earth sheltered design is considered “in harmony” with state and local ordinances in this case. Although informed of the hearing, no comments were received from the township or 10 nearest property owners.

All of the variances included the “standard” stipulation that all federal, state, and local laws and regulations be met.

The PC convened a pair of CUP hearings, recommending approval of both to the Houston County Board of Supervisors. The first was for Michael and Diane Schmidt of Black Hammer Township to build a cabin in an ag district, while the second would allow Gary and Pauline Jorgensen of Mound Prairie Township to build a non-farm dwelling on a parcel of less than 40 acres (also in an ag district).

The Schmidt cabin would be built on posts dug below the frost line, but would not sit on a permanent foundation. It would measure 16 x 24 feet. The Jorgenson building site (seven acres) would be split off a 160 acre parcel. The lot is considered buildable, with class VII soils.

The same condition (that all federal, state, and local laws and regulations be complied with) was added to the PC recommendations.