The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 11, 2013

Elysian council votes campground down

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

ELYSIAN — The Elysian City Council voted down a proposal Monday to build a 61-unit campground and six-unit hotel after councilors decided the lakeshore property should remain zoned as residential.

Supporters said the campground would bring visitors and investment to Elysian, while opponents said it wouldn’t meet land-use requirements. The issue at hand was a request to re-zone a 4.98-acre Lake Elysian parcel to highway commercial, though it became a discussion on the project itself.

Councilwoman Edna Thayer said she voted against the change in part because she believed the property would eventually be developed as housing, though she acknowledged two previous projects had fallen through.

“But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen in the future,” she said.

Because re-zoning a property for commercial use requires four of the council’s five votes to pass, Thayer only needed one more dissenting vote. It came from Councilman Brian Ziemer.

He said he voted against the re-zoning in part because the proposal didn’t meet Waseca County’s requirements for a campground, including that it be at least five acres and be accessible by a paved road.

That line of reasoning drew harsh criticism from his fellow councilors and from City Administrator Pat Nusbaum.

“It has nothing to do with Waseca County,” Nusbaum said, shaking her head.

A small piece of southern Elysian lies within Waseca County, though Nusbaum said the city’s zoning rules, not the county’s, apply to this case because it is within the city limits.

“I haven’t even asked for a vote. You’re out of line,” Mayor Clinton Stoen said after Ziemer said he was voting “no.”

Janesville resident Chris Johnson, who had represented Nusbaum in a slander case against former Mayor Katy Anttila, accused Thayer of voting “no” at the behest of Anttila, who he said lives near the proposed campground.

“It’s shameful we have council people who are doing the bidding of someone who is no longer holding office,” he said. “Do we need to change your nameplate to Katy Anttila, ex-officio?”

The campground proposal came from John Dockstader, of St. Ansgar, Iowa. He said he has a camper in a nearby campground, and was encouraged by friends to start a business here.

He said after the meeting he was disappointed, partly because some on the council said things that weren’t true. Dockstader said he doubts that he’ll try to start a campground elsewhere.

Supporters of the re-zoning pointed to the economic benefits.

Michael Meyer, president of the Elysian Area Chamber of Commerce, said Elysian has lost more businesses than it has gained in the past few years and the campground would add to the tax base and bring in visitors.

“A vote in favor of the re-zoning is a vote to secure our community’s future,” he said.

Resident Michael Kauss called it “an opportunity to bring money to Elysian.”

“If your attitude is you want no growth, get off the council.”

The Elysian City Council has a history of conflict, and Monday’s meeting showed the recent election, which replaced former Mayor Katy Anttila, hasn’t solved its problems.

For example, a discussion to appoint a city attorney, Jason Moran, devolved into an argument between him and Ziemer, who accused Moran of having a conflict of interest.

Moran, who is also an assistant county attorney for Le Sueur County, said Ziemer once sued the city over its annexation of Ziemer’s property, then withdrew the lawsuit.

“I would encourage Mr. Ziemer to put his personal animosity against me aside,” he said. Thayer, the councilwoman, said Moran was “disrespectful,” and also voted against the appointment, which passed 3-2.

The motion said the job would take effect immediately, and it did — the mayor rose from his chair after the vote, went into a back room and got a chair for Moran to sit at the council table.