Final discussions on ordinance are set for May

By Robert Williams


A public hearing was held regarding the new Otter Tail County vacation home rental ordinance by the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, April 23, with more than a few specific areas of the ordinance questioned.

“This is a new ordinance,” said Land and Resource Management Director Chris LeClair. “We currently license vacation rentals through the lodging ordinance and that addresses health and safety standards. What this ordinance is trying to address is more the behaviors that we get complaints about with these vacation rentals. The loud parties at night, large numbers of vehicles parking on the streets, so it’s trying to address that.”

LeClair is looking to fasttrack the adoption of the ordinance by Memorial Day, while some of the specific language in the ordinance seems to be still in question. Multiple commissioners stated the ordinance is new and inferred that the language used is an attempt to please both private home owners and vacation rental home owners at the same time.

That may be easier said than done.

The ordinance’s purpose is to: establish a licensing program for vacation home rentals; to continue the allowed use of private vacation home rentals, but also mitigate possible adverse impacts to the public’s health, safety, and general welfare and quality of life of surrounding properties, as well as water and environmental quality, through the establishment of a licensing program for the review and appeal of vacation home rental unit operations; to establish and enforce standards for the licensing of vacation home rentals and strike a balance between protecting property owners’ private property rights, enhancing localized economic activity and tourism, preserving the residential integrity of neighborhoods, and promoting and protecting the public’s health, safety and general welfare to the citizens and patrons of vacation home rentals.

The ordinance applies only to vacation home rentals lying outside the incorporated limits of any municipality. 

Rental home owners will get the same license they have always gotten, according to LeClair. All owners will be notified by the county and have until January, 1, 2025, to apply for a Vacation Home License. Those who are already licensed will be able to disregard the notice. All new operations will need to apply for a license before operation can begin.

A separate license is required for each unit on a parcel or lot that has vacation rentals.

“A lot of homes have a primary dwelling and a guest house,” said LeClair. “If you operate both of them as a vacation rental each one would need its own separate license.”

Three violations of the ordinance that are substantiated by a county office will result in the license not being renewed.

Standards of violation and performance standards revolve around occupancy, noise, parking and site use, property contact information, sewage treatment, solid waste and pets.

LeClair highlighted the maximum occupancy allowed includes both overnight guests and daytime guests.

“If you have a vacation rental and you’re allowed to have five people sleep there overnight, you can’t throw a graduation party there during the day,” he said. “You’re only allowed five people at all times during the day. We’re basically trying to make sure we’re not disturbing the peace with the neighbors.”

A point of discussion is ongoing about prohibiting the use of recreational vehicles, tents, accessory structures, or fish houses as a vacation home rental or used to obtain an increase to the occupancy allowed. Use of said structures or vehicles for overnight or sleeping accommodations is prohibited for a vacation home rental.

LeClair did recommend “accessory structures” be struck from the language to allow such things as an apartment above a garage to be allowed.

Under noise, LeClair stated it is a very common complaint. The new ordinance stipulates that quiet hours are between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. at which time indoor and/or outdoor activity audible from neighboring property boundaries must not be carried on beyond a general conversation level in a manner that disturbs the peace.

Regarding pets, if they are allowed, pets must be leashed at all times when outside of the vacation home rental unit under the direct supervision of an adult.

The ordinance got pushback from Tony Swendsrud of Underwood, who questioned multiple aspects of the ordinance with questions he claimed were fairly generic.

His concerns were regarding what specific identified risks were involved regarding water quality.

LeClair did not have to respond, but did so by describing the language used as “boilerplate” and that the ordinance intends to protect people’s health and safety.

Swendsrud also questioned whether a financial analysis was completed on implementation and enforcement costs.

He also questioned whether a homeowner who leaves for the winter and rents out the home while away, cannot have a large Fourth of July party while back in residence because the ordinance limits the number of people.

“That’s unreasonable,” said Swendsrud.

Swendsrud also questioned if there were existing ordinances regarding occupation and tents, noise ordinances, and pets outside of the area of vacation home rentals.

LeClair stated two recommendations from the Department of Health need to be made to the final revision of the ordinance. He then stated after those changes are made that the ordinance is ready for full board approval.

“Our goal is to have this in place by this season,” said LeClair, specifying that as Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Full language of the ordinance is available on the county website under Board of Commissioners Supporting Documents Compiled for April 23.

“We have been through this a number of times; we’ve had a considerable amount of time for the public to comment and appreciate Mr. Swendsrud who came and gave us his comments,” said Commissioner Commissioner Wayne D. Johnson.

He, among other commissioners, stated the ordinance does not need to go back to committee but the board expects to have a full conversation when it comes back in May for approval. That discussion will occur Tuesday, May 7, at 10 a.m.

“I would add the ordinance and the nature of the ordinance itself is an effort to balance vacation home rentals and private property rights in a way that is respectful for both interests and it is a reasonable effort to accomplish that,” said Board Chair Kurt Mortenson. “That’s what we’re seeking to do here. This is a new area, not only for Otter Tail County, but statewide and this is our attempt and effort to respect the two interests.”


Probation Director Michael Schommer updated the board on the 2024 comprehensive plan for county probation.

“We want our youth and adults to build resilience and all of the topics we talk about today will tie back to that,” said Schommer.

Goals were discussed, such as reducing juvenile out-of-home placements. The alternative to detention has decreased costs and freed cut the number of total beds used from 2,179 in 2019 to 538 in 2023. Costs dropped from nearly $700,000 in 2020 to $1,200.

The county’s use of secure detention paints a picture of effective delivery of probation services. 94 percent of all detention use in 2023 was ordered on pretrial files. Otter Tail County Probation does not have control over pretrial files. 68 percent of all juveniles placed in secure detention were involved with Human Services at the time of being placed in secure detention.

A Pre-Placement Screening Team (PPST) is used to review all juvenile files before they are recommended for an out-of-home placement in District Court. 

In 2023, Probation and Human Services shifted to a Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT), where members of both departments are present at weekly meetings for case consults and/or pre-placement screenings. The MDT provides an ongoing mechanism for a multi-disciplinary consult on some juveniles with an integrated service approach. This MDT should begin to demonstrate better outcomes for the families we serve, Schommer’s report stated.

Reducing repeat offenders was due to 95 percent of all juveniles who successfully completed the Juvenile Diversion Program between 2020-2022 were not adjudicated delinquent within two years of program completion.

“There are unintended consequences when a youth is placed on probation,” said Schommer. 

A Restorative Justice pilot program was launched in February 2024. Restorative justice is designed to repair the harm caused to all individuals involved in a crime, and to the broader community, by encouraging open communication between justice-involved youths and victims. We have established a steering committee per new guidelines established under the Office of Restorative Practices which positions us to receive state grants to support the development of a formal Restorative Justice Program. 

The department also requires Probation Agents to obtain at least 40 hours of approved professional development every year. This will enhance the complex and technical skills needed to guide long-term behavior change in clients.

Commissioner Dan Bucholz asked what Schommer’s thoughts were on the effects of legalized cannabis use on future numbers. Schommer stated there are concerns, but he was unable to predict the future.

“There is a lot of speculation and I think in two years we’ll have a good understanding on what the impacts are on legislation changes,” Schommer said.

“The report is extremely encouraging,” Commissioner Lee Rogness said. “It’s impressive and we’re most grateful.”

Phelps Mill

The board approved the recommendation from the planning commission on a Conditional Use Permit Request made by Otter Tail County Parks and Trails Dept., through the direction of the approved Phelps Mill Master Plan that was County Board Approved on April 22.

Kevin Fellbaum, Otter Tail County Parks and Trails Director represented the Conditional Use Application. Fellbaum gave a brief history and indicated that back in 2019 Otter Tail County purchased 72 acres of land on the park’s northern boundary and after purchasing the additional land the County moved forward with the Phelps Mills County Park Master Plan in 2021. The Conditional Use request is for Phase 1 of the Master Plan.

Phase 1 will include prairie and wetland restoration, soft trail construction, boardwalk construction, site prep construction for 9-10 primitive campsites, 2 permanent RV sites that will be used for summer seasonal park workers and site prep for 2 vault toilet structures. 

The motion was approved with Commissioner Johnson abstaining from the vote.

Child Care

The board approved a proclamation to make May 10 as Child Care Provider Appreciation Day. There will be county-wide events for children and child care providers to participate in as those providers are recognized for the services they provide.

Throughout the county, there are 130 home-based, licensed providers, a number that has remained stable, according to Children and Families Supervisors Krista Fix and Stephanie Olson.

Adult Mental Health

Coordinator on Aging and LAC Co-Chairs Melissa Dahl and  Fonda Knutson provided an annual report on the OTC Adult Mental Health Local Advisory Council (LAC).

The report had four recommendations, including continued support of permanent supported housing efforts in our area; continued improvements to treatment and medications for incarcerated individuals.; consider ways to support staffing in our mental health facilities to increase access to services, and a review of affordable transportation options so that people with mental health challenges can consistently attend appointments necessary for wellness.

Community Development 

Director Amy Baldwin presented a resolution to support regional telecom company applications to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program for the expansion of broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved.

Tekstar Communications dba Arvig is applying for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program for three eligible areas (North Battle Lake, West Battle Lake, South of Detroit Lakes).

Arvig has reduced the amount of county match with existing grant funds already received and committed to work being done on the east side of the county.

“Getting broadband to our county has been quite a journey,” Commissioner Rogness said. “It requires flexibility and it has required a lot of dedication on behalf of our providers that are found within our county boundaries, as well. I think it is imperative that we follow through on this.”

Commissioner Johnson complimented Arvig for partnering with the county and informing the board that there were funds available that spared a potential 35 percent match.

A similar resolution was passed for Otter Tail Telcom to utilize two state funding opportunities to bring broadband to the southwest corner of the county, the Border-to-Border program and a Low Density program.

“This is a challenging application due to the low density nature of the area,” said Baldwin.

Conversations have been continuing with four townships that have committed funding: Carlisle, Orwell, Oscar and Western.

A 12.5 percent match not to exceed $625,000 is included in the resolution and township contributed funds would be included in the match. Any unused funds from other applications will also be used for the match, if possible, should the application for funds be successful.

According to Commissioner Johnson, this is the last opportunity to get high speed cable to the door in this portion of the county, basically southwest of Interstate 94.

He also complimented the townships with partnering with the service providers to get the infrastructure into place.

“If this is successful, it’s a real win for that section of our county,” said Johnson.

Highway Department County Engineer Krysten Foster presented plans at least two years ahead of upcoming projects, which include roads near Vergas, Perham, and New York Mills.

Depending on funding availability meeting or exceeding forecasted amounts, there are six resurfacing projects in the Transportation Plan for 2026: 

• CSAH 4 between CSAH 41 and Vergas, 

• CSAH 8 between CSAH 10 and CSAH 80 in Perham, 

• CSAH 31 between CSAH 4 and Hwy. 59, 

• 5.9 miles of CSAH 61 north of CSAH 16,

• CSAH 67 from New York Mills to CSAH 58, 

• CSAH 82 from one mile west of Dalton to Hwy. 5