A couple seeking to tear down an existing house and build a new one in Lakeland have gotten approval from the City Council. As previously reported, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources objects to the plan due to its size and setback from the edge of the bluff.
The council overrode a recommendation from the city’s Planning Commission and rejected the DNR’s objections.
The homeowners are planning to build what they describe as a Prairie School-style house with subdued earth tones for the exterior. They say it will be an improvement over the existing structure. Kathleen Quinn told St. Croix 360 in an email that the existing house is eight feet from the bluff, while their revised plan is for the new house to be 15 feet from the bluff.
The DNR, which is charged with protecting the scenic riverway, noted that the house would be about 14 feet from the bluff. State rules require at least 40 feet, to try to preserve the natural view from the river.
In response, the Quinns said they would move the house one foot farther from the bluff line.
The Lakeland planning commission held a hearing on the Quinns’ new request earlier this month and recommended the council deny their requests for variances for bluffline setback and peak roof height. It recommended approval of variances for side and front yard setbacks and grading on a slope.
The council approved all five variances.
The Quinns say they are constrained by the lot’s long and narrow shape and by the location of the drainfield.
“We really tried to design a house that would blend into the environment,” Kathleen Quinn told the Pioneer Press in August. “We tried to stay in the same footprint, so that it would not be an obtrusive home.
The case is reminiscent of a legal battle between media mogul Stanley Hubbard and the DNR over Hubbard’s home construction. That litigation ultimately led to a state Supreme Court decision limiting the DNR’s authority to enforce the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
In the Star Tribune, the DNR and river advocates worry the decision could lead to a slippery slope for the St. Croix. Molly Shodeen, area hydrologist with the DNR, told council members that variances weaken the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and could lead to its “death by a thousand cuts.”
Deb Ryun of the St. Croix River Association told the Star Tribune the issue isn’t as much about the specific plans, but the trend of overriding the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. “As we pick away at it, what are we going to have left?” Ryun told the paper.