In re: The Application of Living Word Bible Camp

Court of Appeals of Minnesota, Nos. A14-0464, 14-0481, A14-1224, A14-1225, April 6, 2015: Bible camp’s development not prohibited by conservation easement.

Two groups of realtors oppose Living Word Bible Camp’s (LWBC) plan to build a youth bible camp on a property of 283 acres, of which 84 acres is subject to a conservation easement owned by the Minnesota Land Trust. The plan calls for a cluster development on fewer than 6 acres of the property, the ability to accommodate up to 150 overnight guests, while approximately 240 acres are to remain “in a natural state.”

The conservation easement generally prohibits development and commercial use but specifically permits construction of trails for “firebreaks, walking, horseback riding, [and] cross-country skiing.”  Among various challenges, the camp’s opponents argued that a conditional-use permit (CUP) for the camp allows a commercial use by allowing the portion of the property subject to the conservation easement to be used for “trails for hiking, nature trails, cross country skiing, and other low impact non-motorized activities.” The court rejected this argument for two reasons, finding that those uses are not commercial as defined in the relevant local ordinance, and they are specifically permitted by the conservation easement. The ordinance defines “[c]ommercial use” as “the principal use of land or buildings for the sale, lease, rental, or trade of products, goods and services.” Although the conservation easement prohibits commercial development “of any kind” on easement property, it specifically allows recreational uses of the property, including establishment of trails for “firebreaks, walking, horseback riding, [and] cross-country skiing.” Accordingly, the court found, the planned uses are consistent with the conservation-easement mandates.

The decision is unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2014). It is available at http://mn.gov/lawlib/archive/ctapun/2015/opa140464-040615.pdf.

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