Contentious House Construction On River Bluff Will Go Ahead

Lawsuit settlement puts restrictions on visual impact of new house along the lower St. Croix river.




2 minute read

The Lower St. Croix River, seen from Belwin Conservancy
The Lower St. Croix River, seen from Belwin Conservancy

A case that has served as a poster child for recent development conflicts on the lower St. Croix River has been resolved. West Lakeland Township property-owners who sued Washington County over their plans to build a new house on a site where they have already torn down an existing home:

According to the Pioneer Press:

Tom and Grace Fix, who own riverfront property in West Lakeland Township, sued the county earlier this year, saying a variance granted in the 1980s that allowed the current house on the property to be just 40 feet from the river bluff should stand.

County officials argued that the Fixes’ new house either would need a new variance or would have to be built 100 feet from the bluff, but later changed their position.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Fixes’ permit is subject to a number of conditions, said Assistant Washington County Attorney George Kuprian.

“The variance doesn’t give him carte blanche to build,” Kuprian said. “There are other regulations that he has to comply with.”

The Fixes will be required to plant additional trees and use an earth-tone color — which must be approved by the county — on the home’s siding, roof and trim. They will not be allowed to make any topographic alterations or excavate or fill between the blufflline and the river, and they have to upgrade the septic system.

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The Fixes, who moved to the St. Croix Valley from Seattle, were profiled in a Star Tribune article this spring about increased construction along the river in the wake of a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that prevents the state from enforcing Wild and Scenic Rivers Act regulations, and often violate local zoning laws.

In that article, St. Croix River Association Deb Ryun said the issue is indicative of a broader change along the river.

“One of the big concerns is that you have an aging population of people who have owned property along the river and have lived with the requirements of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and have learned why it’s important to maintain things like the bluff setback,” Ryun said. “But as property changes hands, suddenly you have a whole group of people who don’t have that history, and need to understand it.”

The Fixes plan to replace the one-story house that was previously on the property with a two-story house of approximately the same square footage.



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Contentious House Construction On River Bluff Will Go Ahead