RV park faces opposition
by Tom Coombe
Facing intense neighborhood opposition, a plan to reopen and expand a campground/recreational vehicle park near Miners Lake was tabled Wednesday night by the city’s planning and zoning commission.
The decision came quickly and without opposition from commission members after a better than two-hour public hearing inside a packed council chambers at Ely’s City Hall.
While city staff recommended approval of the plan with conditions - including revocation if excessive noise is created - commission members showed little desire to take action this week.
Member Emily Roose pressed for more time and said “I think in order to make this project viable there need to be (additional) conditions.”
Owner Dean Peterson was present for the hearing and outlined his plan to rejuvenate a campground and recreational vehicle park that hasn’t been used as such for at least a decade.
Peterson proposes to expand the site, located at 1759 Pioneer Road, increasing the number of RV sites from eight to 35, adding five non-permanent dry cabins, two bathhouses, a laundry facility, pavilion and a privy on the south side of the lake.
But roughly two dozen Ely area residents, nearly all nearby property owners, used Wednesday’s hearing to voice their concerns and opposition.
“Would you like this in your neighborhood?” asked Wayne Lewis. “If the answer is ‘no,’ please vote ‘no.’”
Tom Benson argued that the plan doesn’t meet the existing criteria set up by the city to justify a conditional use permit, including a provision that requires that permit approval must not “substantially diminish and impair the property values within the surrounding neighborhood.”
Several speakers made that argument, and claimed that a 35-site RV park would diminish property values and change the nature of the neighborhood, bringing more traffic and both noise and light pollution.
Yet a finding of facts, issued by the commission as part of Wednesday’s hearing packet found that Peterson’s proposal was consistent with current zoning.
Among the findings were that a conditional use permit was already approved for the property with eight RV and eight tent sites, and that there are no current operational RV parks in the city, and that the city’s vision is “to support business and entrepreneurship within the city.”
A letter of support for the proposal from Eva Sebesta, executive director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce, was read into the testimony for the public hearing.
Other city findings showed that the project could help provide temporary housing for short-term summer employees, and that the intended development of the property is to maintain the natural landscape and surroundings of the existing property with minimal disruption and maintaining its natural appearance.
Peterson, meanwhile, told the commission he was genuinely surprised by the neighborhood opposition.
“If I had known it was going to be like this, I would have gone to each and every one of your doors to talk to you,” said Peterson, who along with his wife Lee Ann own and operate AOK Outdoors, Inc.
The Petersons came to Ely after careers with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Dean said he is pursuing his dream to develop an RV park in Ely.
“Although we weren’t born here, we love it here,” he said, describing a business that will appeal to RV owners to “Escape to the North.”
“Is there a need for a campground in Ely, Minnesota?” Peterson said. “Ask yourself that. Everyone’s going to say yes because that’s all I ever heard. Thank you for building this campground. That’s why I’m kind of shocked this many people would come and oppose this.”
Peterson also described efforts to minimize impact including RV sites that will be located further away from the roadway and a minimum pad size of 2,800 square feet, rather than the state requirement of 2,000 square feet.
“We could have packed them in there,” he said, describing a “woodsy feeling” to the proposed park.
Yet the reassurances of the owner, who added “when all is said and done we’ll have a million and a half dollars into this,” did little to soothe the opposition of those present.
One man said he was opposed to developing “this beautiful piece of wilderness in the middle of town,” while Mary Slaninka told the commission “I feel like I was blindsided” by the proposal.
Daniel Moravitz said he was against the project for “safety reasons” including a “tenfold increase” in traffic along Pioneer Road in the eight years he has lived there.
He said he was opposed to the arrival of RV campers “I don’t know anything about.”
“I feel it’s going to be nothing but trouble (and) litter,” said Moravitz.
Rob Mattila told Peterson “I am surprised that you are surprised and I’m guessing everybody here privately is saying the same things. You’re tripling the size of a campground that was abandoned, that we thought was no longer a functioning enterprise.”
The session also had some tense moments, particularly when Doug Johnston claimed that the process was already “rigged” in Peterson’s favor.
“You have just impugned this whole commission,” said chairman Mike Banovetz. “That’s unacceptable.”
“It’s an opinion,” Johnston responded. “Everyone’s got them.”
Marcia Lewis pulled no punches when she went to the microphone, telling the commission the proposal to expand the campground “will destroy our neighborhood.”
She said that when the previous RV park operated in the 1990s and into the early-2000s, “the noise from the RVs was deafening. This will be exponential.”