Building moratorium at Lake Mitchell in question

A moratorium on building at Lake Mitchell was discussed by the Mitchell Planning and Zoning Commission Monday, and questions about the need for it were raised.

A moratorium on building at Lake Mitchell was discussed by the Mitchell Planning and Zoning Commission Monday, and questions about the need for it were raised.

The City Council imposed the six-month ban on issuing building permits along the lake by a unanimous vote May 2. The planners, along with the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee, are being asked to provide input while new city policies for the lake are being drawn up.

Mitchell City Attorney Randy Stiles is drafting ordinances to clear up potential problems and some vague areas in city law, he told the council on

Resolution 2913, titled "Lake Mitchell Shoreline Preservation," states that no new buildings or work on existing buildings that might "alter, change or move in any manner the high water mark of the lake property" will be allowed during the six-month moratorium.

The planners, along with Mayor Lou Sebert and some city staffers who sat in on the meeting, discussed how to determine a high-water mark and if that is an important part of this process.


"I don't think the high-water mark belongs in there," said Public Works Director Tim McGannon.

In fact, McGannon seemed skeptical of the entire plan. He said he wonders why the changes in city law are being discussed.

McGannon noted that 191 property owners along the lake will be impacted by a process that began when one lakeside homeowner asked permission to build a boathouse and do other improvements -- if setback limits were loosened.

Neighbors protested, and the boathouse project was withdrawn earlier this year.

"What are we trying to regulate?" McGannon asked. "I'm not sure."

He said one of the major hurdles is to determine who will be impacted by the moratorium. There are currently no applications for building permits at the lake.

The question is, what building projects would impact the shoreline?

"That's the point they're trying to figure out," McGannon said.


He said the high-water mark is something the Federal Emergency Management Agency should determine, since it will affect flood insurance policies.

If the high-water mark is determined to be lower than the elevation of homes along the lake, many property owners will be compelled to buy it. That may or may not be a good thing, McGannon said, but he's not sure it's something the city should decide.

According to Stiles, one of the main problems is that property lines are not defined as shoreline. Rules on accessory buildings are also unclear, he said.

Sebert and Commissioner Bernie Schmucker, both of whom live along the lake, said private residents have done most of the work to stabilize the shoreline since the lake was created in 1927-1928.

The city bought farmland that it lowered and then flooded when Firesteel Creek was dammed, creating the manmade lake.

According to McGannon and Sebert, the city owns most of the land beneath the lake, although private property owners who purchased land from the city own land on the shoreline and, in some cases, underneath the lake as it has grown over the years.

The water is owned by the state of South Dakota while the shoreline is protected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The shoreline has varied as the lake level has gone up and down, McGannon said. He said it was at its highest last June after heavy rains in the area flowed into the lake.


As the water level has risen, it has impacted the shoreline and caused erosion. Homeowners have used rock and other material, including gabions, which are wire baskets filled with rocks, to stabilize the shoreline.

Schmucker said for more than 50 years, the only efforts to preserve the shoreline came from property owners.

McGannon said since the 1980s, federal agencies and the city have worked to keep the lake shoreline stable. Even now, despite the city moratorium on building permits, property owners can get a permit from the Corps of Engineers if their project fits under a nationwide list of allowable reasons.

Sebert said he is concerned about getting too much federal oversight.

"The owners can't hardly bend over there without getting a permit from the Corps of Engineers," he said.

In other news from the meeting:

  • Harlan Quenzer and Larry Thompson, both engineers who live in Mitchell, spoke on a proposed rezoning of land along Interstate 90.

Quenzer, who spoke to the commission, and Thompson are members of the Focus 2020 Land Use and Development Committee, which recommended several possible changes in the city to encourage growth.
They said parts of strip of land south of the interstate bordered by state Highway 37 and Ohlman Street should be rezoned from industrial to highway business. Existing businesses would not be impacted by such a change, the commission was told.

Other parts of that slender strip of property are zoned urban development and that should also be changed to highway business, which would encourage more development, Quenzer said.

"We think the timing is right to do that now or at least start thinking about it," he said.

Quenzer said he feels it would encourage development in the area.

He said there are too many unfinished industrial parks in the city.

"We're kind of boxing ourselves in with industrial parks, rather than filling them in," Quenzer said.

Commission Chairman Don Meyers said any rezoning would not impact people who live in the area. There will be adequate public notice provided and hearings held before any change is made, City Planner Neil Putnam said.

Meyer said this seems like a logical next step to him.

"Focus 2020 was to plan for the future," he said. "If Mitchell is going to grow, it makes sense to plan for that expansion."

A map of the area and proposed zoning changes will be brought to the Planning and Zoning Commission's May 23 meeting.

  • Two conditional use permits to allow daycare centers to be operated in homes were recommended for approval.

Michelle Moller, at 621 N. Wisconsin St., and Shannon Jones, at 401 S. Edmunds St., will next go to the City Council for final permission.
The city has been requiring daycares that shut down for six months or more to reapply for permits, but the commission recommended waiving that rule in these two cases and dropping that policy for all future applications.

Commission members said it's unfair to ask someone to pay a $100 fee after shutting down temporarily. It was noted that teachers can take several months off after having a child and are then not asked to reapply for a teaching certificate.

  • Daren Long was recommended for approval for a rezoning of property known as the Triple D Tract, which is the northeast corner of South Mattie Street and East Havens Avenue.

Long plans to build a large storage building there and said he will also create a large concrete parking lot. He is the co-owner of Dale's A-1 Transmission in Mitchell.

  • The commission re-elected Meyers as chairman and Jay Larson as vice chairman. Both were re-elected without opposition.
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