On Tuesday morning, Lake County commissioners denied a conditional-use permit which would have allowed a local businessman to expand a gravel mining operation along SD-34 near Madison.
Albert Lee Yager and his daughter, Donna Flying Horse, had asked to expand the parameters of their current gravel mining operation located east of the 457th Ave. intersection on the north side of SD-34 a mile and a half east of Madison. In 2016, they had been granted a conditional-use permit that included a 1,000-foot setback from their neighbor's pasture line.
With the new application, they wanted to mine within 200-300 feet of the pasture line. Their neighbor, Janet Weber, who breeds and boards thoroughbred race horses, opposed the change.
At the Lake County Planning Commission meeting on May 8, Yager agreed to a compromise of 450 feet, but he changed his mind prior to the county commission meeting this week.
"At the time, I didn't know my rights," Yager told commissioners.
Planning and Zoning Officer Mandi Anderson read the discussion portion of the planning commission's unapproved minutes. Commission Chairperson Kelli Wollmann emphasized the concluding line in those minutes which made reference to Weber's acceptance of the compromise.
"She felt she had no choice," Wollmann noted.
Yager responded by referencing his justification for rejecting the compromise. State law requires a minimum of 1,000 feet between a gravel mining operation and a residential structure.
"The law says 1,000 feet. I'm asking for that 1,000 feet," he said.
He rejected the arguments Weber made to the planning commission, saying she couldn't sell her property because she was asking six times what it's worth, and because it's located near a sewer pond.
"The reason it's not selling is not the gravel pit," Yager said.
Flying Horse said another neighbor boards horses and doesn't have any problems with the gravel mining operation. She reiterated her father's request.
"All we want is 1,000 feet from the residences," she said.
Their application was supported by a letter from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources indicating a new mine license had been issued; a letter from the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks indicating the project would have no significant impact on fish and wildlife resources; and a letter from the South Dakota State Historical Society indicating there would be no effect on known cultural resources.
Weber appeared before the commission with two attorneys, Mitchell Peterson with Davenport Evans in Sioux Falls and Dick Ericsson of Madison. Weber read a prepared statement which summarized the previous agreement and stated the grounds for her opposition to the change, which included the loss of potential buyers.
"I have also lost clients for my business of raising and boarding thoroughbred horses," Weber said.
She described the history of her business, which began in 1997, and the ways it has expanded over the years. She also talked about her business' reputation, noting the Equine Department at South Dakota State University considers it exceptional and has encouraged her to hire interns.
"This is my life," she said. "This is my home."
Weber submitted seven letters of support from veterinarians, horse owners, breeders and trainers which indicate thoroughbred race horses are sensitive, and encroachment by the gravel mining operation could cause a variety of problems. Noise from the equipment could prevent a mare from carrying a foal to term or hinder a horse's recovery during a lay-up from racing, and the dust could affect the horses' lungs.
Peterson established his credentials as a zoning expert before explaining how Yager was misinterpreting the law. He said that a minimum was just that -- a minimum, not a right or entitlement.
"It really depends upon what is going on around that gravel pit," Peterson said.
He pointed out that Yager has not been following through on either the conditions established in 2016 or on promises made at that time.
"You have the discretion to say, `No.' You have the authority to say, 'This doesn't benefit our community'," Peterson indicated.
He pointed out the law allows the commission to determine whether the gravel pit is compatible with adjacent property, and he reviewed how Weber's business was being affected by the proposed expansion. He suggested the commission revisit the application if the situation changes.
After the attorney provided a rebuttal for Yager's asserted rights, he introduced a new argument -- the need for competition in the area to keep gravel prices affordable. He also indicated the highway was noisier than his equipment.
Ericsson suggested commissioners keep their "eye on the ball" and make Yager keep his word. He said Weber compromised in the past when she could have opposed the initial application, and she should not be expected to compromise again because Yager wants to move the line.
Commissioner Deb Reinicke recused herself from participating in the discussion and voting due to a conflict of interest. Other commissioners voted unanimously to deny the application.
As a board of adjustment, commissioners approved a conditional-use permit for Chris and Amanda Carlson to build a twin home on Lots 3A and 4A of Marr's Beach Addition in Lakeview Township, and a permit for Michael Greenhoff to build a 54x30x12 attached garage on Lots 21 and 22 of Stensland and Stout Subdivision in Lakeview Township.