Archived Story

Landowner, business owners support Homestead at Ottertail

Published 11:28am Monday, February 25, 2013

While some Otter Tail Lake residents don’t want to see a proposed 70-acre campground in their backyard, others around the town of Ottertail, including area businesses, are of a different opinion.

“This is not a surprise, I expected some of the neighbors to not want it,” said Greg Swanberg.

Swanberg and his wife Beth have applied for a conditional use permit to establish 185 camping sites on on agricultural property near the junction of Highways 5 and 78.

An Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on the development was recently forwarded to the State Environmental Quality Board, and a public comment period on the information started Feb. 18 and will continue until March 20.

Swanberg, who has deep roots in the area, thinks the development will be good for the area.

“We were looking for a good use for the property — 70 acres is not enough land for a serious agricultural operation these days,” said Swanberg, adding that the property has been in his family for generations. Their concept is for an upscale campground that is clean and organized.

“The area has lost a lot of resorts over the last 20 years, there is no campground in the area here,” said Milt Paulson, owner/broker of Paulson Realty in Battle Lake, who adds that seasonal sites in other areas fill up well in advance, indicating there is a demand in the area.

Paulson also said the lake is underused.

“Campground users are here because they want to be in the lakes area, but a small percentage will be pulling a boat,” said Paulson. “I checked with the county who checks how many licensed watercraft are owned by lakeshore residents. There were 1691 in 2012, but you can see less than 100 boats on the lake on any given day.”

Paulson is familiar with camping. He said it is more of a social activity, sitting around the campfire with other campers.

“We see campers in the middle of fields with no lake,” said Paulson. “A percentage may bring a boat, but not a very large percentage.”

Paulson concluded that some campers may decide to buy a cabin and become permanent residents once they become familiar with the area.

Keith Fleshhour, an avid camper, who lives adjacent to the closest Otter Tail Lake public access, said he does not think the lake will be overwhelmed by Homestead at Ottertail.

“I’ve lived next to the public access since 1977,” said Fleshhour. “The use of the public access is way down.”

Ottertail is a large lake with many opportunities for access.

“Although we believe the percentage of people coming with boats will be pretty small, there are are number of public access areas to the lake within five to seven miles from the campground,” said Swanberg.

Fleshhour also owns property close to the development.

“I don’t think it will affect my property value — if anything it will raise it,” said Fleshhour. “People buy property here and think the lake is all theirs. The lake is here for more than just the lakeshore residents.”

Ironically, some of the lakeshore residents are there because of Swanberg’s family. When Greg’s grandfather bought the property, State Highway 78 didn’t exist. When the road was installed, it split off a section of lakeshore property from the farm. The family subsequently sold off lots along the lakeshore in the 1990s, and the zoning was changed there to residential.

While the area has gotten busier in the last 20 years, the roads have progressed too. DOT plans major Highway 78 improvements this summer, and Swanberg has shaved off a section of his property for an easement to expand Highway 78 to include a turn lane onto highway five.

Some residents are concerned that the campground could attract as many as 740 residents during peak season. Swanberg says that estimate is overly optimistic.

“If I had 740 people come in a day I would be ecstatic,” Swanberg said. “We’re going to build the project in phases so the first phase would be much less.”

Dan Herder, owner of the Otter Supper Club and Lodge, is all for the campground project because it would potentially bring more people to the area. Herder doesn’t think it will negatively affect the accommodations portion of his business.

“Campgrounds are a very different customer base than our customers,” said Herder. “Campers are extended stay, while our guests stay for one or two nights.”

Herder also said The Otter turns guest away all summer long, and there is certainly more room in the area for more overnight opportunities.

Adam Carr’s family lives in Ottertail and they run Carr’s Supermarket. He’s all for the development.

“We think it’s a good thing for the area overall,” said Carr. “We only get 12 to 15 weeks a year to make most of our money. With four dollar gas and a lot of the resorts gone, a lot of people don’t come to the lake like they used to. Anything to draw people here is good because our area is so seasonal.”

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