Harmony Park vs. neighbors

Published 9:22 am Friday, January 7, 2011

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners is being advised to approve issuing two permits to Harmony Park Music Garden, but some neighbors are worried about noise and making public allegations of criminal activities.

The owner of the park says he wants to be a good neighbor.

The Freeborn County Planning Commission, an advisory board to the county’s planning and zoning department, met Monday night and recommended that a conditional-use permit be issued for the campground and an interim-use permit be issued for large music and social events.

Harmony Park is a camp four miles northeast of Clarks Grove, on the western edge of Geneva Lake. It includes a campground and an area for music concerts. The park hosts four concerts each year and is also available to rent for private gatherings.

According to Wayne Sorenson, the county’s planning and zoning administrator, the permit to the campground would be a non-conforming use permit, like those issued to all other campgrounds in Freeborn County. This would be a permanent permit, meaning Harmony Park would not need to renew it once it’s been issued.

“Even though it had camping there for years, a permit had not been issued, as it should have been when zoning was adopted,” said 2nd District Commissioner Dan Belshan, who also sits on the Planning Commission. “When the owner made improvements to the campground, it triggered a look at the site.”

Sorenson said the music and events permit would be

in effect to regulate any concert or social event expected to draw more than 500 people to Harmony Park Music Garden. This permit has conditions for loudness, parking signs, extra deputies and would need to be renewed annually. It could be turned down in the future if the rules outlined in the permit are not followed.

“This will give the owner more accountability to keep events running smoothly,” Sorenson said.

The noise and crowd activities have been a concern for some neighbors, and a handful of people living near Harmony Park attended Monday’s meeting to voice their concerns about issuing the permits.

Sandi Serdahl and her husband, Rod, have lived across the lake from Harmony Park for more than 10 years. They are not in favor of these permits being issued. Sandi said their concerns are of safety and laws being broken. She said alleged drug use on the property is also a concern.

“The bottom line is that you are responsible for activity on your property and yet our county officials are telling us they can’t go in there and do anything about it because they’re concerned for the safety of their officers,” she said.

“The last couple of years there’s been instances of people parking along the lake and trying to sneak in. In the meantime, tires get slashed and boats get stolen,” she said. “Our concern is that if the permit gets issued, what’s going to happen? It gets worse and worse.”

In response to the allegations, Harmony Park owner Jay Sullivan said he’s aware of trespassing issues during the past two years and is working on solutions to the problem. He said last year additional private security was added to the events, and he’s willing to pay for additional law enforcement to take any burden off the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office.

“The last thing I want to be is a bad neighbor, and I’m wide open for compromise. I think we can come to reasonable solutions to the problem,” Sullivan said. “The problems from 2009 to 2010 dropped dramatically because we focused on solutions. This doesn’t happen overnight, but we need the opportunity to fix them as they arise.”

He also said he’s agreeable to state-mandated volume levels at music events.

All planning and zoning permits are first reviewed by the Planning Commission before being brought before the Board of Commissioners. Commissioners then vote on whether or not to allow the planning and zoning department to issue the permits.

The resolution is expected to come before the Board of Commissioners during its meeting slated for 8:30 a.m. Jan. 18 in the Freeborn County Government Center.