February 26, 2009 at 7:14 a.m.
Hay Days permit ok'd on a split vote by Board
The no vote on the Sno Barons' permit application came from Chair Ben Montzka who could not support the "tool" used to permit the world's largest grass drag racing and swap meet event.
Montzka said the county should have applied a Special Events permit or an "Interim Use" permit to regulate this; because Hay Days is an ever-evolving land use and is well beyond the scope of what the county usually can regulate under a Conditional Use Permit. Conditional Use Permits also run with the land.
"We're using the framing we have" Montzka acknowledged, but he said there will be issues in the future the county won't be able to respond to through a CUP, so he voted no.
Commissioner Rick Greene was the abstention. Greene was advised by the county attorney's office to abstain due to the potential for a conflict of interest. The Greene's farmstead is next to the Hay Days acres, west of Almelund.
Commissioner Mike Robinson tried to cajole Greene into declaring his stance anyway. Robinson asked a few times of Greene, "What do you think?"
Chairman Montzka reminded Robinson he was out-of-order and that an abstaining commissioner must have no part in discussion on the item or even try to influence discussion.
The Hay Days issue filled the County Board Room and exterior hallway with interested citizens. Many spoke during the "public forum" that is held at 7 p.m. in Board meetings. The actual public record had been closed by the county planning commission when it took action two weeks ago recommending the permit. Public hearings are ordinarily only before the planning group.
Still, public forum comment took 45 minutes.
Remarks ranged from the fire chief to an environmental writer.
The chief was assuring everyone the firefighters are "prepared" for any contingency during Hay Days. John Lichtscheidl said the Almelund department's top priority is to "protect the community."
Mel Mettler, mayor of the town where Hay Days has taken place for decades, said the Sno Barons people are terrific to work with. "We (Columbus) had nothing but cooperation from the Sno Barons," Mettler testified.
Reps from the North Branch Chamber and the Chisago Lakes Chamber spoke of the positive economic ripple effect of the huge event.
LeeAnn Vande Kamp, Almelund area resident, said the Hay Days permit approval tells other entrepreneurs that Chisago County is willing to hear new ideas and that "their investment of time and money" in locating to Chisago County will not be wasted.
On the other side, many spoke about the impact of the event on their quality of rural life.
One neighboring property owner was philosophically opposed; saying this is a time in world history when he feels mankind is "being called to look beyond our toys." He said there is a "higher reality here" and questioned the reasonableness of burning tons of fossil fuels racing motorized toys.
Another person said county fairgrounds or other more suitable urban-based setting should have been considered. (According to Commissioner Robinson the fair property is too small at 39 acres.)
At least three people spoke about concerns they had with the planning commission review. Citizens said the planning commission did no "diligent analysis" of the Hay Days event, and when presented with criteria on which to base denial of the permit, the commission had "little to no interest" in this.
Those opposed said Hay Days is going to cost the county more in law enforcement manpower, permit enforcement, contamination and environmental impacts, and citizen grief than any sum of money it will generate for local benefit.
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