Spirit of a lawsuit Complaint alleges mayor has conflict

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Eastman

SPIRIT LAKE — A lawsuit filed by a company pursuing an RV park in Spirit Lake accuses the mayor, who owns properties adjacent to the site, of not allowing the site plan to enter the city's public review process.

Hinz Property Group, LLC, filed the suit in First District Court against the city and Mayor Renee Eastman.

"Mayor Renee Eastman shall cease and desist from further interference with submission of the site plan and her refusal to transmit the site plan to the city engineer and the city Planning and Zoning Department," the suit states.

The city adopted a building moratorium in August 2017 because its sewer lagoon was near capacity amid growth.

While the moratorium prohibits the city from accepting building permit requests requiring sewer connections, it does not prevent site plans that do not require building permits from entering the city's review and approval process, the suit states.

Eastman, attorney Michael Schmidt, who represents Hinz Property Group, and Jocelyn Hinz, manager of the company, hadn't returned messages seeking comment as of deadline Friday night.

Hinz Property Group submitted its site plan and the corresponding fee for its proposed Blue Pine RV Park last July.

"Because no building or structure is involved with the RV park, no building permit is required to obtain site approval for the RV park," the suit states.

City staff originally agreed to review the site plan because the company was not seeking a building permit, nor was it seeking to hook up to sewer until after the moratorium is lifted.

The suit states Eastman then prevented the plan from being reviewed, returned the fee and explained the reason for the denial.

"Due to the current sewer connection moratorium and per Spirit Lake city code … the city cannot issue building permits/site plan approvals," the letter states.

The suit says Eastman told city staff and others that she does not want an RV park next to property she owns and that the proposal will "go nowhere."

Since an RV park is permitted in an industrial zone, which is the current zoning for the property, city code states that only a site plan review by the Planning and Zoning Commission is needed to develop an RV park, the filing states.

"Mayor Eastman is not designated or authorized to review and approve site plans, nor is she designated or authorized to reject site plan applications or to intercept them and return them to applicants," the suit states.

The filing further accuses Eastman of instructing staff to not speak with the company’s representatives.

The company hired an attorney after the alleged rejection and attempted to resubmit the site plan, but Eastman again denied the submittal in November, the filing states. Later that month, Hinz Property Group filed an appeal to the planning commission, which was also "intercepted" by Eastman without forwarding it to the board.

"Given this conduct, future attempts at any administrative appeal would be futile," the suit states.

The suit does not list the specific street for the RV park.

Spirit Lake voters last May approved a $1.8 million bond for wastewater treatment improvements to address the sewer capacity issue.

The bond will add a 25 million gallon lagoon, increase efficiencies to the land application irrigation system and enhance the biological treatment process.

The 40-year bond increased residents’ monthly sewer bill $2 per month to repay the construction loan.

Since the last improvement to the city's wastewater treatment facility in 2002, there has been a 57 percent increase in population growth, according to city officials.

The wastewater facility is a land-based system in which, after treatment, the effluent is irrigated onto agriculture fields and forest crops.

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