A bill introduced in the Wisconsin legislature last week is designed to exempt a specific property on the St. Croix River in Somerset from state and county ordinances intended to protect the river’s scenic qualities.
The venue is a former Christian camp that was sold in 2013 and subsequently converted to an event venue called The Lodge on Croix. It is located on the river bluff across from Marine on St. Croix.
After purchasing it, the property-owners built a deck and patio that do not comply with river regulations, and without seeking a variance from St. Croix County.
The county successfully sued them in 2015, and a judge agreed the property-owners had undertaken unauthorized activities.
“There is no ambiguity in the zoning code and the deck and patio required a land use permit and/or variance prior to construction,” Judge Scott Needham ruled. “The definitions of ‘bluff line’ and ‘slope preservation zone’ are not ambiguous. Defendants were well aware of the requirements of the zoning code but chose to disregard them.”
The proposals have been introduced by Republican legislators from the St. Croix Valley: Senator Shiela Harsdorf and Representatives Adam Jarchow, Rob Stafsholt, and Shannon Zimmerman.
The legislation would prevent the state or county from enforcing regulations that “prohibit the operation of an event facility and lodging establishment in buildings that existed prior to the effective date of this paragraph …. on a property located wholly or partially within the Lower St. Croix riverway that was historically used as a recreational campground.”
River advocates are concerned that the legislation would allow development that is contrary to the St. Croix’s scenic qualities, and initiate a slippery slope of the state overruling local ordinances.
“This bill runs counter to everything that the Wild and Scenic River federal designation represents, and does not uphold the commitment of the state of Wisconsin to protect this Riverway, for the good of all people, for all time,” said Deb Ryun, executive director of the St. Croix River Association.