Owners of Crooked Willow near Osakis ask for more time to meet conditions of permit

The business isn't in compliance with two of the county's nine conditions.

EP County Government 2

DOUGLAS COUNTY — One Douglas County business has six months to comply with the conditions of its conditional use permit — a permit that was acquired five years ago — or the permit could be suspended or revoked and the business would have to shut down.

If the business is shut down, hundreds of people would be impacted.

The conditional use permit was issued to Virkus Properties LLC, which is owned by Derek and Jody Virkus. The business they own and operate is Crooked Willow, a wedding and event venue on County Road 82 between Nelson and Osakis.

Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush provided background on the issue to Douglas County commissioners at their regular board meeting Wednesday, Feb. 15.

In his formal request for board action, which was included in the packet of materials for commissioner, Rush said that in 2018, the county issued the conditional use permit to Virkus to operate a special event facility with a capacity of 500 people. This type of facility, he said, is considered to be a “place of public accommodation” by the State Building Code. This means that the facility has to meet specific building and fire codes.


The permit was issued with nine conditions, Rush said, explaining that two of the nine have not been met. Those conditions are as follows:

  • #7 – A severe weather safety plan shall be drafted that includes evacuation routes and procedures to be followed in the event of a weather emergency, or a plan for providing shelter in-place.
  • #9 – All facilities accommodating 200 or more persons must be inspected for compliance with Minnesota State Building Code prior to the facility being occupied for the uses permitted above.

“With condition number seven, it is very relevant right now considering the storms that went through the area last year,” Rush said. “Having an action plan in place that can be quickly executed could potentially save lives.”

County reached out several times

Between 2018 and 2023, Rush said the county sent two letters, multiple emails, made several phone calls and also met with Virkus about the two conditions that were not met.

He also noted that although the county does not have a responsibility to enforce state building code, it does have a responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of residents and guests that come into Douglas County.

“By allowing this violation to continue would be derelict to the county to not make sure that we’re protecting those residents and ensuring that we’re doing our responsibility issuing these permits.”

In the materials sent to the county, Rush said that each time he reached out to Virkus in the past five years, Virkus has assured his staff that he is working on the issues and will have them resolved as soon as he’s able. He also said that Virkus’ responses often placed blame for the delay on consultants, contractors or state agencies.

However, Rush also noted that information provided by the Department of Labor and Industry, which enforces building code, and the State Fire Marshal's office, which enforces fire code, revealed that delays in making corrections to code violations were not due to delays caused by these agencies. He said the agencies were clear that since the facility opened in 2018, compliance with the state codes has been a requirement prior to the occupation of the facility.

County Board 021523 by Celeste Edenloff on Scribd


Pleading his case

Derek Virkus was present during the time Rush and the commissioners were discussing his property. That portion of the meeting was held as a public hearing.

Virkus said that at the time he and his wife purchased the property, he had spoken with the State Fire Marshal’s office and with people at the county and was told that because it was currently operating as a business, he would not need to put in a fire sprinkling system in the buildings. At that time, he worked with a small business development center as well as SBA to acquire a loan. He said he didn’t have any “slush funds” to use.

He worked with architects to draw up plans for his business and to make sure everything was up to code. Shortly after, he received a letter that said he would need to either do fire suppression or do a sprinkler system.

Derek Virkus

Virkus then said he went back to the state because he wanted some answers. Had he known that this was something he needed to do, Virkus said he would have negotiated it when buying the place or he would have documented it as part of his loans. He said that all took place late in 2018 and early 2019, which is when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and his business was then shut down. He didn’t end up getting any financial help during that time, no COVID funds or anything, he said.

“There was literally no help for me, nothing,” he said.

In 2021, he was able to get up and running again. But in the middle of all that, he said the state revised their rules and that he started digging into it to try and figure out what he needed to do.

He told the commissioners that his building is safe and that’s all that matters. He said it is ADA compliant and that everything is compliant.

But he also said that he is exploring his options for either fire suppression or a sprinkler system. He said the state is not clear on what he needs to do.


Several times while talking to the commissioners, Virkus told them he wasn’t fighting them on anything and that he’s aware of what needs to happen.

“I’m not fighting the system, I’m just trying to do what I can,” he said, explaining that he’s just trying to run his business. He said it is just him and his wife, a couple of part-time bartenders and weekend cleaning staff, but that was it. “I’m everything there. I’m every end of this business and this is all we do. It’s frustrating to think a small business could get shut down. We support this community. We have 68 events that would be impacted by this if this shut down.”

After pleading his case for several more minutes, answering questions from the commissioners and having a slightly heated debate with them and Rush, Virkus asked the commissioners if he could have until at least the end of the year to comply with the final two conditions.

Chamber director asks for adequate time

As it was a public hearing, County Board Chairperson Charlie Meyer asked if there was anyone who wanted to speak for or against the issue.

Tara Bitzan, executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said she didn’t attend Wednesday’s meeting with the intention of speaking, but after listening to everything she decided to speak up.

Tara Bitzan

She asked the commissioners to look at the big picture and to give Virkus the time he needs to remedy the situation. She said she realized it’s been on the books for awhile, but that she could speak to his character and that she knows he wants to be in compliance.

Bitzan pleaded with the commissioners to give him an adequate amount of time to get things done because shutting down his business would be detrimental.

“We’re hearing at the Chamber regularly that people are not finding venues for large events and he’s got one in the area,” she said. “I would hate to see that business being lost out on in our community.”


After Bitzan was done speaking, Meyer asked if there was anyone else who wished to speak and no one else came forward.

The discussion went on for about another 20 minutes. The commissioners ended up giving Virkus six months to come into compliance. If he cannot come into compliance in that time frame, he can come back and ask the commissioner for an extension.

However, he must have the proper documentation as to why he cannot get things done in that time frame. The commissioner said that just because he asks for an extension, it does not mean he will get it. Meyer abstained from the vote, but the other commissioners approved the motion.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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