Seven months after a commercial marina’s proposal to expand on Prior Lake sparked a protest from residents, the city has altered regulations for public and private recreational users of the lake.
The main result, officials say: To erase a lot of uncertainty around the rules, while asserting city control over the situation.
The City Council last week approved an amended ordinance, the result of input from a variety of sources, including city planners, residents, marina operators, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Community & Economic Development Director Dan Rogness said he expects to get the required official approval from the DNR soon.
“It was an opportunity to refine an ordinance that hadn’t been looked at for quite some time,” said City Administrator Frank Boyles. The city consulted ordinances in Minnetonka and White Bear Lake as it drafted the new rules, Rogness said.
The city discovered gaps in its old ordinance last fall, when the Waters Edge Marina proposed doubling the size of its dock on Boudin’s Bay on Lower Prior Lake. Dan Schmid, who owns the business, withdrew his plan and soon afterward the city declared a moratorium on marina development to give it time to study the issue.
The city thought Schmid’s proposed plans fell under the DNR’s jurisdiction, but discovered during the uproar that the state agency had changed its rules. Boat slip permits for all marina businesses used to be handled by the DNR. But the state now only handles permits for commercial marinas that provide ancillary services, like food or gas, which Waters Edge does not.
“They kind of ducked under the radar,” said Woody Spitzmueller, a resident who served on a task force that helped the city research and craft the amended ordinance. “The big concern was that the business model [of the Waters Edge proposal] might also be adopted by other businesses elsewhere on the lake.”
Prior Lake’s amended ordinance closes that loophole, by defining and laying out rules for commercial marinas and recreational marinas. Waters Edge is the only marina business that falls into the latter category, because it doesn’t offer the extra services.
The existing size of docks for marina businesses and homeowners’ associations are grandfathered into the new rules. That includes the 50-boat slips now at Waters Edge. If the business were to resubmit an expansion — including one like its proposal that would have added another 46 boat slips — it would be evaluated under a different set of conditions that define the number of boat slips that would be allowed. Another condition spells out requirements for parking spaces for marina customers.
One of the main conditions is maintaining safe navigation: that is, not allowing dock extensions to block off open space for boats to come and go. Those provisions apply not just to marina businesses, but to docks maintained by residents, including homeowners’ associations.
Rogness said the city hasn’t received any development proposals from new or existing marina businesses since the moratorium expired May 22. Schmid did not respond to interview requests.
Boyles said the amended ordinance helps to ensure that marina development “will not be allowed to grow helter skelter.
“It boils down to the reasonable use of the lake as public amenity, trying to make sure that it can be reasonably shared,” he said.
“I was very pleased with the process [of amending the ordinance],” said Spitzmueller, a member of the city’s community safety advisory committee and Prior Lake Spring Lake Watershed District. “For a lot of reasons — safety and environmental — this makes sense.” □