Letter to the Editor

No clear plan for proposed project

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Owners of Okoboji lakeshore property should be aware of another huge new development being proposed on land owned by Butch Parks near the Barefoot Bar. A small, local builder of homes and farm buildings and Subway franchise owner are proposing 520 units of rental housing on 65 acres northwest of the Barefoot Bar. In addition, Parks Marina has recently completed a 40,000 square-foot dry rack boat storage building and has plans for at least two more, with the expressed goal of developing a “Disneyworld” type complex and providing dry rack boat storage, service, lake access and docking for every existing lift on Okoboji (in spite of the County’s Ordinance against “key-holing”). The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors recently approved 10 additional acres of general commercial zoning for property acquired from the Lutheran Camp without so much as a plan or drawing on the back of a napkin as to what Parks was going to do with the land.

The 520 unit rental housing development also has no plan for 85 percent of it and is outside of both Okoboji and Spirit Lake, in rural Dickinson County, so no city services are expected to be provided for the development. Neither of the proponents has any experience in developing property; the builder builds a few homes a year as well as hog confinement farm buildings.

The proponent will also be requesting Tax Increment Financing to assist in extending utilities currently available within Okoboji and Spirit Lake, prematurely out into the rural county to service this development. Without experience and a market study supporting the pace of development, if the development slows or fails, Dickinson County property owners will end up with the tax bill. In the meantime, tax dollars generated from this project will be diverted from the county budget to this project.

Dickinson County has zoning authority over the 65-acre property, but the Dickinson County staff does not provide any review, analysis or recommendation of the proposal other than procedural advice. Although the request for all 65 acres is to change the property from agricultural to residential, there is no plan for anything but the first 10 acres. The proponent plans to build 62 rental homes on 10 acres; six units per acre, as compared to an adjacent property of only 3.27 units per acre. They are asking for eight units per acre overall, totaling 520 units with no plan for the total. Neither the proponent nor the county staff or boards has the experience to deal with this scale of project, and the process of approvals is proceeding without any plan (beyond 10 acres of the first Phase).

The County Planning and Zoning Board, as well as the County Board of Supervisors has already given approval to the proposal, in spite of a petition of more than 200 affected property owners representing more than $130 million in property value. The one remaining approval necessary is from the County Board of Adjustments, (Sept. 25) for a Planned Unit Development, which will grant cart blanc waivers to all of the standards of the residential zone and allow daily rental in a zoning district meant for owner occupancy.

The list of adverse effects to the land, natural resources and surrounding properties goes on and on, but the largest impact will be upon Lake Okoboji. The unbridled and ever-expanding capacity of Parks Marina, paired with an additional 520 housing units, will seriously erode the quality of the use of Lake Okoboji. You can’t blame Butch Parks; he is a businessman capitalizing on the Lakes.

However, Dickinson County is responsible for following its own plan and their own ordinances and providing a professional level of review meant to protect the public health, safety and welfare. It is pretty hard to do that when you approve something that does not have a plan (but asks for all the approvals), is proposed by parties without development experience and a review that includes the proponent’s own engineer or his own work and no review and recommendation by the county’s planning staff.

If you care about the quality of Lake Okoboji, join the more than 200 property owners at the upcoming meeting of the Dickinson County Board of Adjustments at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 in the Community Room of the Dickinson County Courthouse.

Chris Enger

Board member, Chalstrom Beach Plantation