Wapiti Park shutdown looms
•Click here to read a story about Wapiti Park suing the city of Elk River.
by Joni Astrup
The Elk River City Council is moving closer to shutting down Wapiti Park Campgrounds by revoking its conditional use permit.
The council voted Monday, June 20 to prepare a resolution to revoke the permit. The resolution is tentatively scheduled to be considered by the council on Monday, June 27.
One of the city’s chief issues with Wapiti Park is the city’s contention that people are living there. The campground is located at 18746 Troy St. in Elk River.
“The concern has never been with having a campground at Wapiti Park,” City Attorney Peter Beck said. “A campground at Wapiti Park could be quite an amenity to the city and be a good thing in a number of ways. The concern has been that it is used not as a campground but as a residence, which is not consistent with state law and not consistent with the conditional use permit.”
The council and Wapiti Park have been at odds for months. The council voted in April to begin the process of revoking the campground’s conditional use permit, which dates to 1984. The process includes a public hearing, which was held June 20.
Among the city’s contentions:
•Several residents have indicated they make their permanent residence at Wapiti Park Campgrounds.
•Sherburne County Probation has reported that in the past five years 23 probationers have identified Wapiti Park as their permanent residence.
•At least two vehicles at Wapiti Park have permanent additions attached to them.
•Several vehicles apparently have the wheels removed.
Adam Kaatz, an attorney representing Wapiti Park, told the council that he has found no permanent residents at Wapiti Park.
“Any residents there that might have been longer term in January … have left,” Kaatz said. “They were afraid they were going to be kicked out in the middle of winter. They’re gone.”
He said he has no knowledge of the numbers from Sherburne County Probation and would want to look into that.
Regarding any additions to vehicles, Kaatz said: “Everything that I’ve seen out there can be taken down very quickly.”
Regarding several vehicles apparently with their wheels removed, Kaatz said with the exception of a mobile home that’s not being used, “every vehicle has wheels.”
Kaatz also requested that the city spell out the specific violations of the permit on which the city is basing its revocation.
Kaatz, meanwhile, said that Wapiti Park’s position is that it has been operating since 1976 — before the city’s code was adopted in 1980 —and is a legal, non-confirming use.
He also presented the council with a “Save Wapiti Park Campgrounds” petition containing about 300 signatures. The petition read: “Stop the city of Elk River from shutting down a family business. We are asking you to sign this petition to stop the city of Elk River from shutting down a campgrounds that has been in business for more than 40 years and has been state licensed as a year round campgrounds. We have been issued all licenses and permits to be in business since day 1 and have complied with the Dept. of Health and the State of Minnesota’s inspections every year. Now the city of Elk River is saying that we have never complied with their requests since day 1.”
Council members, however, didn’t budge.
Council Member Matt Westgaard said as much as he can appreciate a petition with some 300 names, he took issue with the wording, saying it’s a little bit misleading saying the city wants to shut down a family business.
Neither he nor the council want to do that, but do want Wapiti Park to be compliant with its permit, he said.
“That is a recreational campground, not a housing development, not a mobile home park. It’s not meant for permanent residency,” Westgaard said. “… I’d love to see Wapiti Park continue to be in business for a long, long time in the city of Elk River, but it has to follow the conditions of its permit.”
Council Member Paul Motin agreed. He said he doesn’t want to close Wapiti Park down either, but said the operation doesn’t meet the requirements of the conditional use permit.
“If you agreed to something, you should have done it,” he said. “If you’re not doing it, shame on you for not doing it.”
Isabel Osorio-Smith of Elk River was at the meeting for another matter and didn’t intend to talk about Wapiti Park. But at the end of the public hearing, she stepped to the podium.
“I would like the council to make sure that whatever decision you make, you realize that you will be affecting a lot of people,” she said.