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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Campground hearing is not “Minnesota Nice”

Catie Clark
Posted 9/27/23

ELY- The unpleasant specter of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) visited an Ely Board of Adjustment public hearing on a proposed campground on Pioneer Rd. on Wednesday, Sept. 20. In a scenario …

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Campground hearing is not “Minnesota Nice”


ELY- The unpleasant specter of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) visited an Ely Board of Adjustment public hearing on a proposed campground on Pioneer Rd. on Wednesday, Sept. 20. In a scenario frequently repeated in numerous public meetings on zoning and land use around the country, 19 residents of Ely’s most affluent neighborhood protested the application for a conditional use permit (CUP) for a campground facing Miners Lake.
The campground property at 1759 N. Pioneer Rd. is zoned as shoreline mixed use (SMU), which requires a campground to obtain a CUP to operate.
The Board of Adjustment, which is formed by the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, meets whenever a property owner applies for a zoning variance or CUP. The Board voted to table a decision on the CUP pending further study.
Those who objected to the CUP were at times vocal, sometimes interrupting the chair of the meeting, Mike Banovetz, and speaking out of order. Banovetz maintained his composure, even when insulted or interrupted, letting speakers have their say and often letting them go a bit over their allotted three minutes at the podium.

The campground
The campground already exists, though its previous owners closed it as a business several years ago. According to Scott Kochendorfer, Ely’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z) director, the property was zoned commercial up until 1994, when the zoning classification was changed to shoreline mixed use (SMU). The property has been operated as a campground since at least the early 1990s.
The new owners of the property, Dean and Leanne Peterson, wish to re-open and operate a campground and RV park at the site.
Prior to being converted to a campground, the property was the site of the former Sibley Mine. The dry house for the mine is still a functional building on the property, which Peterson intends to restore and to turn into the reception, check-in, and store for the campground.
In his report to the board, Kochendorfer found that the CUP application was consistent with Ely’s zoning ordinances.
Dean Peterson presented their tentative plans for the site, including five tent sites with over 40-foot spacings, four remote tent sites on the south shore of Miners Lake, five seasonal cabins, five pull-through RV sites, and 23 back-in RV sites—though the CUP application would allow up to 35 RV sites.
Though Minnesota requires a minimum of 2,000 square feet for every RV site, Peterson’s plan provides 2,800 square feet. Given the size of the campground property, the site has room for over 150 RVs using 2,800 square feet. The proposed campground would also include two bathhouses, a laundry facility, a small retail store for camper amenities, and a playground.
Peterson distributed a proposed map of the site although the eventual number and placement of camping, cabin, and RV sites would be dependent on the terms of the CUP.
Peterson said he and his wife were thrilled to find the property and noted how positive the community has been toward the project, especially since Ely has not had a functioning campground for over five years.
Peterson described his reaction to finding the campground opportunity in Ely, “Everything was like, ‘Wow, we hit the jackpot’. Everything (we needed) was right there and it was all good. It was all good for the city. It’s all good for everybody we talked with. We were kind of shocked to hear that there were people that were really against this.”
Peterson did appear shocked by how many people showed up to oppose his CUP application. He told the crowd that if he had known, he would have knocked on doors to talk with people individually about the business.

In favor
The public hearing portion of the meeting started with those in favor of the campground. Kochendorfer read a letter from the Chamber of Commerce which favored the project noting that the lack of a campground in town is a critical lack of tourist amenities for both RV and tent campers.
Both of the Peterson’s neighbors whose properties are physically adjacent to the campground spoke in favor of the CUP application. One sent a letter stating their support. The other, Heidi Favet, spoke at the meeting.
“I live immediately adjacent to the property in question,” said Favet. “I’ve been there since 1996. When I purchased that it was a campground when I moved in, and so I’ve had a chance to experience that. There were very, very few issues over the years … I wanted to share my support tonight. I think this is really needed in our community.”

In opposition
The comments of Dan Morovitz were typical of the opposing testimony regarding the proposed campground. Morovitz lives a quarter of a mile from the entrance of the campground, in a home fronting Shagawa Lake.
Morovitz objected for “safety reasons,” beginning with traffic. “I’ve lived on Pioneer Rd. now for eight years,” he began, “and the traffic that’s on that road is tenfold more than when I first moved here.” He also objected to the potential presence of a business that would bring strangers to the neighborhood. “I have grandchildren that use that trail. I do not want them driving through a campground where there are people I don’t know anything about.”
Morovitz also stated that the campground would not be good for “the wilderness in the middle of town—that’s what the Trezona Trail is … I have a feeling there’s just going to be nothing but trouble, litter. There are going to be more people on Miners Lake, Shagawa Lake. There already is, because I frequent both of them.”
Robert Mattila, who also lives on Shagawa Lake about a quarter of a mile from the proposed campground, objected to the revival of the business. He also objected to Peterson’s proposed expansion of RV and camping sites. “Everybody here thought (the campground) was abandoned … Suddenly you’re asking the city to approve going from 16 to 49 sites.”
Mattila also expressed wariness over Peterson bringing a new business into the neighborhood. “We don’t know you,” he stated. “You say you’re a good person and (not a) bad person … my bad people are very clever and sly and hide under what is considered business and exploiting what they can do.” He went on to express that Peterson shouldn’t have expected the people in the neighborhood to trust him and his plans to increase the number of RV and camping sites.
Mattila shared his background as an old Eylite whose great-grandfather came here to mine. He expressed dislike that Peterson could be getting Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) grant money to develop his business. “When I heard reference to IRRRB money, I bristled because that money is on the backs of my family and other people’s families.”
More than one neighborhood resident expressed concern over the impact of the revived campground on their property values. Concern over increased traffic was also a repeated objection.
Several also were concerned about noise. Marcia Lewis, who lives across the street from the campground, remarked, “It’s a quiet and safe community. And this will destroy our neighborhood. When the former owner was operating … the noise from the RV’s running and their air conditioning units was deafening.” She also mentioned noise from traffic, and noisy RV campers disturbing the neighborhood after midnight.

After the hearing
The Timberjay inquired about traffic studies for Pioneer Rd. from the city of Ely. City clerk-treasurer Harold Langowski stated that Pioneer Rd. is one of the most traveled streets in the city, mostly because of the Grand Ely Lodge, but that there was no quantitative city or county data on the amount.
During a tour of the campground site in the wake of last week’s meeting, Peterson said he was shocked at what he heard from some of the nearby residents. “I felt like a criminal walking out of (the meeting). I certainly did not expect that.” He also was open to negotiating, “If the city wants fewer (RV and tent) sites or other changes, I’m open to that.”
Peterson also stated that he was open to his neighbors and those opposed to the business to come tour the site and see exactly what he has planned.