New e-mails unearthed by a citizen’s public records request show the frustrations within the Department of Natural Resources as Detroit Lakes city officials this year approved a new hotel and restaurant project despite violations of state environmental rules.
The project, which has a building permit but has not yet broken ground, was too tall and didn’t have enough open space or the pervious surfaces required for a building near the shoreline of Detroit Lake, according to an e-mail between Department of Natural Resources staff members.
“If we stand by and allow the city to circumvent its shore land ordinance, then why should other communities take their ordinances seriously?” wrote DNR staffer Jennifer Shillcox in one of the e-mails.
The e-mails were obtained by a retired DNR hydrologist, Bob Merritt, who lives in Detroit Lakes and worries that the city isn’t following state environmental rules.
The city approved the project last spring over the DNR’s objections, raising the possibility of a state lawsuit.
Legal action was avoided when developer Troy Hoekstra of United Development Solutions changed the project to address the DNR’s concerns, and state officials now say they’re satisfied with the project’s plans.
Hoekstra said he plans to break ground in January.
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 public beach on Detroit Lake.
The DNR still has concerns about Detroit Lakes, however, Shillcox told the Star Tribune on Friday. The DNR wants the city to update its shore land ordinance and commit to following the rule on future projects. Local governments are required to write ordinances that comply with the state’s Shoreland Management Program.
Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk said he couldn’t talk about the ongoing negotiations with the DNR, and referred questions to Detroit Lakes attorney Charles Ramstad. Ramstad did not return a call Friday seeking comment.
The Marriott hotel project was well on its way to approval in February when the DNR first learned about it, according to the e-mails Merritt found.
The DNR was especially concerned that the project might set a precedent undermining shore land decisions elsewhere, according to e-mails from May of this year.
“The decision for this site will set the stage for all future shore land redevelopment in the city,” Shillcox wrote to other staff reviewing the project.
The e-mails show that significant disagreements remained between the DNR and the city as recently as about six weeks ago, with the DNR arguing that the variances granted to the hotel project should be seen as a one-time exception.
“The DNR is extremely concerned that other lakes in Becker County not be exposed to the types of development practices that the city has exercised in this instance,” wrote the DNR’s general counsel, Sherry Enzler, in an e-mail to Ramstad.
Becker County contains hundreds of lakes, with Detroit Lake among its biggest.
Brenk, the mayor, said Friday that the Fairfield Inn & Suites project enhances the city’s shoreline.
“It does fit very well with our comprehensive plan for that area,” he said.