Is it really better to ask for forgiveness than permission? Or in the case of Kent and Natalie Annis, was it better to try to ask for forgiveness from the Douglas County Commissioners rather than applying for the necessary permits for a construction project on their Lake Miltona property?
The answer is probably no, considering the couple will now likely spend thousands of dollars trying to undo their work.
The couple, who live on the west side of the lake on Schuelke Beach Road Northwest, recently completed their project, which consisted of excavating soil, placing fill, constructing retaining walls and construction of a large brick patio on their property.
Property, mind you, that is within a bluff impact zone. And in a bluff impact zone, buildings, accessory structures, patios and walkout basements are not allowed, according to Douglas County ordinances.
At the Tuesday, June 15, Douglas County Board meeting, commissioners approved an after-the-fact conditional use permit, but not without 11 conditions. One of the conditions include the removal of the round paver patio that is 21-feet in diameter with a firepit center, along with the retaining wall bordering the patio and the fill material that was placed in the bluff impact zone on which the patio was constructed.
Kent Annis asked to speak at the meeting, which the commissioners allowed. He told them that when he first started the project, he did so to help with erosion.
“I will admit I got carried away and I humbly apologize,” Kent Annis told the commissioners. “I’m absolutely willing to work with whoever I need to, but I don’t want to remove the patio and the wall.”
Annis told the commissioners it would probably cost anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 to remove those items. He asked the commissioners, instead, for a comparable fine.
Both Kent and his wife, Natalie, were in attendance at the meeting. Natalie told commissioners they were even willing to do community service projects. She echoed her husband’s sentiments in that the goal was to solve the erosion issue. She said Kent even took the necessary steps to put drain tile in.
“It started as a way to fix the problem,” she said. “But he (Kent) is an artist. We never intended to cause problems. We wanted something pretty that looked good.”
Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush said the patio and other work was completed in a bluff impact zone, which requires permitting but that also, the county does not – and has not while he has been working for Douglas County – permitted such work to be done in that type of zone.
Rush also said that there is no mechanism for levying fines on this and told the commissioners they had two choices – approve the permit or not. He did mention that this issue could also find its way to the court system and that the property owners could request a jury trial.
While explaining the project and all of its issues to the commissioners, Rush said he has never seen that much alteration or disruption in a bluff area like that. He also reiterated that the county has never permitted such a project in a bluff impact zone.
Rush also said that in December of 2015, Justin Swart, the environmental planning technician for the county, met with the real estate agent and Kent Annis, who at the time was the potential buyer of the property. They met at the property so that Swart could answer some questions, which included questions about the removal of trees.
At that time, Swart informed Annis that dead or diseased trees could be removed but that the amount of vegetation that could be removed would be limited. He said that tree limbing would be OK to provide a view to the lake. Swart also told Annis during that meeting that retaining walls were not permitted because of the bluff. Annis was also told that there was a flat area at the base of the bluff where a 200-square-foot patio/beach area could be permitted with a shoreland alteration permit.
"To allow any of the work flies in the face of the work our office does."
- Dave Rush, Land and Resource Management director
During a follow-up phone conversation between Swart and Kent Annis in December 2015, Swart told Annis that minimal dirt work and no retaining walls would be allowed because of the bluff. Annis told Swart that very little water drains down the ravine due to changes in the road and other neighboring lots.
Rush told the commissioners that if they were to allow the work to remain without any repercussions, it would send the wrong message to the public.
“To allow any of the work flies in the face of the work our office does,” Rush stated, noting that Kent Annis was well aware of the permitting process.
Commissioner Heather Larson said that the damage was done and that the couple seemed to have good intentions. She was hoping that other options could be available.
“Right or wrong, it’s tasteful and it is beautiful,” she said. “I know two wrongs don’t make a right but it doesn’t seem that there is a proper fix here. Maybe we could table it and further explore it. See if we can find a happy medium.”
Commissioner Tim Kalina, who is also a member of the Douglas County Planning Commission, stated that the project was not done according to the permitting process and that the couple did not follow the rules.
The discussion was not tabled as Commissioner Keith Englund made the motion to approve the after-the-fact permit with the 11 conditions.