John Pazlar has represented residents of May Township as a town board supervisor for 23 years.
During that time, he said, he’s never seen township residents as passionate or engaged about a topic as they have been regarding the possibility of a Catholic youth group opening a summer camp in Wilder Forest.
Pazlar and the two other town board supervisors, John Adams and Steve Magner, voted unanimously on Tuesday to direct staff to come back next week with a proposal that would exclude “youth, camp” as an allowed use within the township’s conservancy zoning district. That language could stop the Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership’s plan to place a camp on the 600 acres of land owned by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
“I’ve never seen the public come out more passionately and affirmatively for or against something as they have for this,” Pazlar told the standing-room-only crowd at May Town Hall on Tuesday morning. “Ultimately, our job, if nothing else, is to represent those people and what their wishes are. Based on that, based on my read of what the community wants here, (‘youth, camp’) is going to fail as language to be retained.”
Many of the more than 60 people who attended the meeting cheered when the vote was taken.
“This is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of protecting the land,” Drew Goodson, the executive director of the River Grove charter school said after the meeting. “We’ll just see what happens. My hope is that the camp and Wilder have received indications that this might not be something that is in the future for the Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership and maybe they would consider other entities who are willing to buy the property and have a use that is more in line with what the community wants.”
Part of the Wilder Forest land is currently leased to the River Grove charter school, which has strong support from parents and residents. The K-6 school, known officially as Marine Area Community School, is housed in several cottages that used to be leased by Concordia Language Villages. The lease between Wilder Foundation and River Grove expires on June 30, 2023.
Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership, based in Medina, plans to open an overnight summer camp and winter retreat center on the site, hosting up to 200 middle-school campers a week during the summer.
Many residents said Tuesday that the Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership’s plans would negatively effect the natural resources in the area, including Square Lake, which has the best water quality of any lake in the east-metro area.
“The board listened to what the residents had to say and had the courage to step up and follow what they were asking,” said Square Lake Association Vice President Mark Diesnner. “It’s a very positive spin. We’re optimistic.”
Letter to nearby residents
Officials from the Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership officials on Monday submitted an application to the township for a conditional-use permit that outlines the partnership’s plans for the property.
In a letter sent to nearby residents on Monday, camp officials explained that the camp would serve as a place where children can have “time away from technology” and “experience a beautiful natural environment where they feel safe, accepted and encouraged.”
Among the activities available to campers: high- and low-rope challenge courses; vertical climbing wall; low ropes/team building; giant swing; zip lining; disc golf; paintball; Wiffle ball; field games; swimming and canoeing.
“The layout of the property is such that most of these activities will happen away from our neighbors, minimizing their impact beyond the property line,” they wrote.
Camp officials also wrote they have no plans to build a lodge on Square Lake and are not planning on using Square Lake as the camp’s primary swimming area.
Moratorium expires Nov. 30
The May Township board in July 2021 enacted a moratorium on the consideration of any new uses, expansion of existing uses, and issuance of permits for uses within conservancy districts. That moratorium expires on Nov. 30.
The board plans to meet at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, to discuss the changes proposed by staff and take a final vote.
Wilder Foundation officials said Tuesday that they would “wait to see the township’s written resolution before comment(ing) on the language that was discussed” at the town board meeting.