City on lower St. Croix considers housing ordinance in conflict with river rules

Lake St. Croix Beach seeks to regulate apartments — but state says they’re simply not allowed.




2 minute read

Courtesy city of Lake St. Croix Beach

The small town of Lake St. Croix Beach, between Afton and Lakeland, is haggling over a proposed ordinance that would allow “accessory” apartments in the city. While some residents want to be able to rent their properties or provide housing for parents or other relatives, the proposal runs afoul of state regulations intended to protect the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

While the city was planning to hold a hearing and possibly vote on the proposal this week, a snafu with the required public notice forced officials to push the hearing back to April. Mary Divine reports in the Pioneer Press that the Department of Natural Resources says multi-family housing is not allowed in the quarter-mile buffer afforded the river:

DNR officials say they aren’t allowed in the protected zone under state law; city officials argue the apartments already exist and should be regulated to a standard set by ordinance.

The city’s planning commission next month is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would amend the city’s zoning regulations in the riverway district to add accessory apartments as an allowable use in a single-family residential zone.

The Lower St. Croix River became a national Wild and Scenic River in 1972. Two years later, Minnesota and Wisconsin adopted zoning standards for the strip of land along the river’s shores. This strip of land — called the “riverway overlay zone” — consists of building restrictions designed to protect the scenic riverway; its boundary extends about a quarter-mile out from the river’s edge.

The DNR, which is charged with protecting the scenic riverway, says the city’s proposed ordinance does not comply with state law, which allows only single-family residences within the riverway district.

– Lake St. Croix Beach: Fight over in-law apartments near St. Croix River heats up, Pioneer Press, March 1, 2021

The proposed ordinance is now due to be discussed by the city’s planning commission on April 5, with a possible city council vote on April 19.

The DNR says both the agency and the city must follow state law. They also say the river rules are intended to protect the only Wild and Scenic River in the state of Minnesota. But the city remains defiant.

“If the DNR does decide to take the city to court, the city council is prepared to go forward with that challenge,” city clerk Dave Engstrom told the Pioneer Press.

Meeting information will be posted on the city’s website.


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City on lower St. Croix considers housing ordinance in conflict with river rules