At a meeting in St. Croix Falls on Monday, numerous residents spoke up against a potential development of 12 new homes on the banks of the St. Croix River. Stillwater developer GreenHalo Builds is working to purchase land from St. Croix Falls that the city bought from Xcel Energy in 2016. The company would construct a dozen houses on the property, on 50-foot wide lots. The proposal was first reported two weeks ago by St. Croix 360.
Opponents on Monday successfully convinced the commission not to vote on a recommendation to the city council as planned, with the members voting to table the issue for two more weeks.
“The property that we’re discussing tonight, that is being considered for this proposal, was purchased by the city in 2016,” said mayor Kirk Anderson in an opening statement. “And it was purchased at the time with the express purpose of leveraging the property for future development. And the city has marketed the property consistently since four years ago on the MLS with a realtor.”
The Star Tribune reported that the city purchased the property six years ago for $346,000. The purchase agreement they have signed with GreenHalo would sell the land for $375,000, if zoning is changed and the proposal is approved.
No residents who spoke at the meeting seemed to support the goal of selling and developing the land. They urged officials to consider the wishes of voters.
“Nobody in the neighborhood wants it,” said resident Jerry Kingery.
Speakers pointed out that the development would close off the river, cover sensitive and wet slopes with impermeable surfaces like roofs and driveways, and forever change the shoreline of the Wild and Scenic River.
More information was also shared about zoning changes that would be required to make the proposed development possible. The land would be re-zoned from single family residential to the city’s planned development category. This would allow for twice the number of houses, and other loosened restrictions. The standard residential zoning allows for 100-foot wide lots with a 75-foot setback from the ordinary high water mark of the river. The new zoning would permit 50-foot lots and 50-foot setbacks from the water. Distances between houses would also be cut in half to 10 feet total.
Craig Hansen, superintendent of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, told the commission that the property is located within the area designated as part of the National Park, though the land remains in city hands.
“We encourage the city of St. Croix Falls to consider the project’s potential impacts to the riverway before a zoning decision is made,” Hansen said.
Wild Rivers Conservancy executive director Deb Ryun referred the commission members to written comments she had submitted, and reconsider for several reasons. She told the commissioners that they need to put the decision on hold until they can do more research.
“Gaylord Nelson’s statue is just down the street,” she said. “I have to wonder how Gaylord would respond or what would he ask you, what is the benefit to this Wild and Scenic River will be? We have a million visitors every year to this National Park, and you’re proposing to close off a piece of this Wild and Scenic River for 12 people.”
She also said the property is very wet, and could easily be flooded in the future. Ryun pointed out the property has a flooding easement, which means Xcel Energy could legally inundate the land by holding water back at the dam just downstream “at any time.”
Resident Adam Kingery also spoke to the city council, as someone who grew up on that specific part of the river, and now lives there with his kids. They fish and enjoy the St. Croix, and he says he wants “them to enjoy the same beauty.”
“It’s a bad idea, the river is all we got in this town,” Kingery said.
The proposal will next be discussed at the St. Croix Falls city council meeting on May 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. The plan commission will continue its discussion and possibly vote on a recommendation at a special meeting on May 31 from 7 to 9 p.m.