Shortly After Legal Settlement, Kootenai Lodge Upsets Neighbors

By Beacon Staff

Update (1/8): According to the Lake County Planning Department, Kootenai Lodge Estates has withdrawn the lakeshore variance application; therefore, the item has been removed from the Lake County Planning Board’s Jan. 14 agenda.

Developers of the Kootenai Lodge Estates, a controversial development at the northern tip of Swan Lake, have upset nearby residents again. This time, by requesting variances for its boat docks – just months after a lawsuit over the subdivision was settled.

Florida-based developer, the Milhous Group submitted a request on Dec. 10 to the Lake County Planning Department to install three, 62-foot-long permanent docks with eight slips each and permanent pilings in the bed of Swan Lake.

If granted, the permit would have to include several variances to the county’s lakeshore protection regulations which say Swan Lake property owners aren’t allowed to construct permanent docks because of winter ice conditions and must remove their floating docks by Dec. 1 each year. The regulations also say docks shouldn’t exceed 50 feet in length, unless there is still less than five feet of water depth at that distance from the shore.

On Dec. 16, the planning office sent Milhous Group a letter saying that based on the information submitted the proposal didn’t meet the requirements for a variance. Those requirements include unusual circumstances necessitating the changes; a lack of other reasonable alternatives; and no impacts on water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and navigation, among other things.

The planning office then referred the application to the planning board and commission – an unusual step.

“I don’t recall ever taking a lakeshore variance to the commissioners,” planner Joel Nelson said.

“Usually there are circumstances unique to the property that show there’s a need for a variance, or there’s not,” he added. “In this case, we felt it needed to go through this process because we didn’t see those circumstances.”

The Lake County Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the Lake County Courthouse.

The dock application follows on the heels of what appeared to be the end of three years of legal wrangling over the project: The Swan Lakers, a community group opposing the 42-acre subdivision, and the defendants, the Milhous Group and Lake County, reached a lawsuit settlement last fall.

While that settlement did allow for 24 boat slips, area residents contacted by the Beacon last week described the variance request as “disingenuous” and “backhanded,” and expressed concern over water quality, aesthetics and safety. Nelson said, at this point, that he didn’t think the application went against any rule set forth in the settlement.

Swan Laker’s president Peter Leander declined to comment on the variance request.

The settlement mandates that no one on the Swan Lakers board of directors or with Milhaus make any derogatory public statements about the other party to media, government officials or at public meetings.