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County allows state legislator to keep noncompliant structure in place

A member of the Minnesota House of Representatives built a structure that is not in compliance with local zoning ordinances, violated a cease and desist order from the Cook County Land Services Department in 2021 and nonetheless will be allowed to keep the building in place near the shores of Poplar Lake.

Republican state Rep. Erik Mortensen made a final plea to keep his recently built structure in place during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, Jan. 12.

His pleas worked.

The local board of adjustment voted 3-2 to allow Mortensen to keep his structure, despite numerous conversations over the course of multiple meetings where members of the board of adjustment openly acknowledged the structure violates county ordinances. The board members who voted to allow the structure to remain in place are Jerry Hiniker, Charlie LaBoda and Adam Treeful. Voting against the request were Keith Kuckler and Judy Motschenbacher.

Mortensen, of Shakopee, purchased a seasonal cabin in Cook County in October 2020. The property is located on the far east end of Poplar Lake near the Gunflint Trail.

According to the land services department, Mortensen failed to obtain the necessary permits to build a new structure on his property near the lakeshore. During the Jan. 12 board of adjustment hearing, the initial consensus among the board of adjustment was that Mortensen failed to prove ‘a practical difficulty’ or any other reason that would have allowed him to curb the county zoning ordinances.

Board Chair Hiniker led the discussion, at one point telling Mortensen, who was in attendance at the Jan. 12 meeting, that he “can build the building, but you can’t build it anywhere you want.”

Less than an hour later, Hiniker voted to allow Mortensen to keep his structure where it stands.

According to Land Services Director Tim Nelson, at some point in the summer of 2021 “construction started on what has been referred to as a shed, or a bunkhouse, on their property, and they were issued a cease and desist order from further construction since the placement of that structure is in violation of the setback distances to Poplar Lake.”

Nelson said in an email sent to WTIP last fall that Mortensen and his wife, Kari, were “under the impression that no permit would be necessary due to the initial size of the structure being under the 160-square-foot exemption for permits, and stated that they were unaware that the structure would still have to adhere to the appropriate setback distances.”

In an email sent to WTIP Jan. 12, Nelson said the “vote that passed did allow for the retention of the structure that was constructed in its current location.”

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Hiniker Jan. 13 about his vote to allow the structure that is not in compliance with local zoning ordinances to stay where it is. Audio below.