Tossing aside a threat of legal action from the state Department of Natural Resources, the Detroit Lakes City Council this week approved an $11.8 million hotel and restaurant project that opponents say violates local and state rules for water quality and shoreline habitat.
The complex would include nine condominiums, a 69-unit Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott and a 4,000-square-foot restaurant at the intersection of W. Lake Drive and Washington Avenue. The 2.78-acre site sits across the street from the shores of Detroit Lake.
“It’s a pretty big deal for a town the size of Detroit Lakes,” Mayor Matt Brenk said. The hotel would fill in a “kind of blighted area” that town planners have targeted for development, he said.
In a Feb. 24 letter, state hydrologist Rodger Hemphill advised the city against approving the variances needed for the project, saying it violated open space requirements, packed too many units into the available space and is more than twice as tall as local ordinances allow for a project that close to the lake.
The development plan “demonstrates a disregard for state laws that protect shore land areas,” he wrote.
His letter was followed by one from the attorney general’s office.
But the city approved the project anyway Tuesday.
In its “findings of fact” regarding the project, the City Council said the project site is a “blighted commercial area” in need of development.
Combining the hotel and condominium into one 52-foot-high structure would make land available for parking and stormwater ponds, the document says, and allow the structure to exceed height limits spelled out for buildings near the lake. The city notes that the short end of the building would be oriented toward the lake “to reduce its visibility as viewed from the lake.”
It also says the building is below the city’s tree line, with some evergreens exceeding 70 feet.
None of those reasons sit well with Bob Merritt, a Detroit Lakes resident and former state hydrologist for the area.
“I’m very much opposed to it,” Merritt said. “They are thumbing their nose at standards.”
He said he hopes the DNR takes the city to court.
A spokesman for the state agency said only that it was exploring options at this point.
Brenk said he hasn’t been notified of any legal action since the city approved the project.
Brenk said the City Council talked about the DNR’s legal threat with its city attorney before approving the project.
“I guess anybody can sue anybody,” he said.
Brenk said it isn’t clear when construction would begin.
The DNR has acted in the past to stop shoreline projects. The DNR took the Crow Wing County Board of Adjustment to court in 2012 after the local board granted a variance that allowed the Bay Lake Townhome Association to build docks. The DNR prevailed, and the variance was ordered reversed by Crow Wing County District Court Judge Kristine R. DeMay.