Two conditional use permits (CUPs) dominated discussions at the Houston County Planning Commission on Feb. 28. Both were for "exhibition permits."

Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said that with a few exemptions, events hosting more than 250 persons require CUPs.

Tom Vix of Cushon's Peak Campground in Houston Township and Leonard Jr. "Jake" and Holly Wieser of Outback Ranch in Yucatan Township both submitted applications.

Cushon's Peak CUP approved

Judy Vix of Cushon's Peak spoke at the first hearing, telling commissioners that only two music festivals are currently planned this year, but the business would like to be permitted to hold up to five events each season.

"How do you police alcohol?" neighbor Chris Chapel asked Vix.

Chapel said he had trouble last June when an intoxicated man trespassed on his property, behaving in a belligerent manner.

"We do not serve alcohol," Vix said. She stated that she was aware of the incident, but added, "That person did not come from Cushon's Peak Campground."

Chapel repeated his assertion several times that drinking and loud partying has been a problem.

"Are you policing minors drinking?" he asked. "He was at a graduation party where many minors were drinking."

"We call the sheriff," Vix finally said.

"I don't doubt that you had that problem," Chairman Charlie Wieser told Chapel. "But is it because of the campground? I don't know. They have graduation parties all over the county and sometimes they get out of hand. She told you that they don't sell alcohol. They're not selling it, so it's pretty hard to police it if you don't sell it."

Jill Diana of Sheldon Valley said that she'd come for another hearing, but went on record about Cushion's Peak bluegrass fests.

"I don't think I've ever been there that I haven't seen the Vixes monitoring what's going on. There's no alcohol. It feels like a very safe place to bring your family."

"Do you hire any outside security for your concerts?" Commissioner Terry Rosendahl asked.

Vix said concerts have never needed added security. She stated that on the night of the incident that Chapel brought up, there was a wedding.

"We place strict qualifications for weddings and any other reunions that might come in," Vix added.

Several Southeast Minnesota Bluegrass Music Association members said that no alcohol is allowed in the concert area at the two fests held at Cushon's Peak each year.

The five-year CUP was recommended for approval following review of 14 applicable criteria. The vote was unanimous. The county board will consider the CUP on March 12.

Outback Ranch CUP tabled

The hearing for Outback Ranch was more contentious. Wieser recused himself from the matter since it involved relatives. Vice-chair Dan Griffin presided.

Scanlan said, "Two emails and a letter were received on the permit application, as well as a couple of phone calls." Several neighbors appeared in person.

Joe Unger and Holly Wieser spoke on behalf of Outback Ranch's application.

"Our main goal is advancing our weddings," Unger said. He proposed shutting down the outdoor stage at 1 a.m. and moving music festivals inside. Several neighbors were not satisfied with that offer.

"I like both the people, but noise is a problem," Rodney Blake said. "The other concern is the support that they need with ambulance and police. I'm adamantly against it."

"If they want to have weddings (there), that's a different story," Blake added.

"I'm a huge music lover," Sally Inglett said. "My concern is the all-weekend-long festivals. The noise really does channel through the valley to my house, and it's terrible. It's (about) lying in bed and hearing the f-word over the mike as clear as you can possibly hear it. It's awful.

"They're running three different stages. Last summer (at one of the events) they had music scheduled from one in the afternoon until nine o'clock in the morning.

"I know they say they bring it inside, but you can still hear it."

Unger told commissioners that outdoor stages have been shut down at 1 a.m. in the past, but inside music sometimes goes all night.

County Commissioner Dana Kjome, who was serving as an alternate in Justin Zmyewski's absence, said part of the trouble might be that the doors on the indoor arena are left open at night on warm summer evenings. Unger confirmed that there's no air conditioning.

"This has been going on for 10 years," Peggy Thorson said. "It's not personal. They're very nice neighbors... (However) I lay in my bed, and I feel vibration. It's four, five, six in the morning before I can go to sleep.

"People that have been at our house with the air conditioner on and our windows closed can hear it, can feel it. I can write down sitting in my living room a script of what is said. The f-bombs. I can write down sentences for you of the kinds of things that go on up there.

"One of my biggest fears is... the concern over the campground. The concern over drugs, alcohol and the lack of control of hours.

"I think you seriously have to look at hours and the number of people that are attending these incidents. Something bad is going to happen, and I think you all know how lawsuits go. I'm asking you to do your job based on those 15 questions."

"My husband Tom and I live in Sheldon Valley," Jill Diana said. "I would just concur that the noise is very loud. You could sit in our living room and write down the lyrics from each of the rock songs that you hear. The music goes on well past midnight. There have been occasions that it's been going on at three o'clock in the morning."

"Right now we don't have anything on the docket," Unger said, "but we want to have the ability to have our events. Realistically, I don't think we can do more than about 1,500 (people) at the place."

When crowds exceed 600, Unger said outside security is hired.

"I've got a real big issue with playing all night," Rosendahl said. Commissioner Glenn Kruse concurred, pointing to a past schedule that continued all night until 9 a.m.

"I think midnight is closing time," Commissioner Garland Moe offered.

Unger repeated his offer to close the outdoor stage at 1 a.m.

"One a.m. is when some people are sleeping," Commissioner Bruce Lee replied.

Kruse made a motion to table the permit for further study. It passed by unanimous vote. The issue will be on the March 28 agenda.

Other matters before the board

Later, commissioners voted to reinstall Wieser and Griffin as chairman and vice-chair, respectively.

The board reviewed a yearly CUP for Todd Tollefsrud of Spring Grove Township to run a sawmill/composting operation as a home occupation in an agriculture district. It was approved by unanimous vote.

Also approved was a CUP for mineral extraction (limestone) for Porteous Olson of Houston Township. That permit runs for five years.

Commissioners briefly discussed a non-conforming cabin owned by Mike Knobbe in rural Spring Grove, but took no action.

Scanlan said he is trying to get Knobbe to send proof that the primary cabin is above the flood plain.

There is also more than one structure serving as cabins on the property, he added.

Knobbe will be asked to appear at a future meeting to discuss possible solutions.

Scanlan said the property might be a permitted as a campground in the future, but some issues remain to get the property into compliance with local zoning ordinances.

"We'll have to contact him. He needs to come to the meeting."

Sixteen issued building permits were approved, including several agricultural structures, four pole sheds, two garages and several additions.

One permit application (from Troy Flatten of Money Creek Township) to build a deck and carport on a trailer house was reported as denied by county staff.

Scanlan said that setbacks cannot be met, and the property represents "a trailer court that is not up to code. It's not permitted as a mobile home park and none of those standards can be met."

Board of Adjustment also meets

The Houston County Board of Adjustment met prior to the Planning Commission, holding two variance hearings.

Both were approved without any objections from neighbors, the respective townships or (in the case of the second) MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation).

Doug Thompson of Mound Prairie Township was granted a variance of 700 feet to meet the required quarter-mile setback from a registered feedlot in order to build a new dwelling.

"I think the impact would be pretty minimal insofar as odors and manure spreading," Scanlan told board members.

Resident Mike Lynch said, "I have nothing against the variance, but I thought I'd ask how these affect the feedlot. How does that affect the feedlot if it wants to expand in the future?"

"It's reciprocal," Scanlan said. "The feedlot owner would have to apply for a variance as well."

"If the variance is approved it's recorded on the Thompson property. So any future owners along with Doug would be aware that there is a feedlot close by, and they're just going to have to put up with potential odors and things that come along with a livestock operation."

The second variance was for Ben Lind of Sheldon Township to build a home addition. Lind was granted permission to build 30 feet closer than the 130 foot required setback from State Highway 76.

Garland Moe was again elected chairman of the BOA.