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Parks’ marina vision dashed by Okoboji commission

By Staff | Oct 23, 2008

ARNOLDS PARK – Iowa Great Lakes entrepreneur Leo “Butch” Parks, Jr., took his bold thinking to the Okoboji Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday evening and was rebuffed by a unanimous vote denying his request to expand the Okoboji Boat Works project into a marina/entertainment district.

Parks gave an impassioned plea to the P&Z to amend the special use permit in place since 1973 to operate OBW as a marina to include a complex replete with restaurant, bar, swimming pool, miniature golf, tennis court, retail space and other amenities in Smith’s Bay on West Lake Okoboji. “Tourism is the lifeblood of the Iowa Great Lakes,” Parks said. “Let us finish our vision.”

The OBW site has been a contentious issue since Parks bought the property in 2001.

In seesaw court battles with the City of Okoboji, Parks secured a liquor license and opened an open-air, tiki-style lakeside lounge fashioned after the successful Barefoot Bar he opened at Parks Marina on East Lake Okoboji in 2003. A subsequent Iowa Supreme Court decision suspended the license, saying it was an illegal extension of the special use permit.

On Tuesday, more than 50 citizens jammed into the Arnolds Park City Council chambers to debate the issue. Those opposed to Parks’ request, like Gen. N.R. Christensen who lives adjacent to OBW, said the longtime marina site has been altered and negatively impacts the largely residential neighborhood. “There are drunks on our lawns, loud noise after midnight and dangerous traffic congestion,” Christensen said. “It’s an Okoboji version of Disneyland, and we don’t want it.”

Others, like Denise Cole who lives on East Lake Okoboji, said OBW offers amenities for family fun. “I take my four young grandchildren to Okoboji Boats to swim and enjoy the beach,” Cole said. “It’s a clean, fun environment.”

Okoboji mayor Mary Vander Woude pleaded with the crowd to keep emotions out of play and stay focused on the issue of whether the special use permit governing OBW should be amended or not.

After almost two hours of dialogue, the P&Z commissioners although praising Parks for his business successes at Parks Marina and elsewhere expressed their concerns that OBW was not the correct site for a marina/entertainment complex. “Among my reservations about the proposal is that you have used too broad a stroke in your presentation without bringing forth specific plans,” said P&Z chair Perry Pearson.

The vote was 5-0 to deny Parks’ request.

Okoboji’s Board of Adjustment will consider the recommendation of the P&Z commission at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 13 at the Arnolds Park City Hall.