The Minnesota company that earlier this year shared preliminary designs for a four-story building at the former Osceola hospital site recently submitted a full proposal for the project. The village government has also passed two changes to its zoning ordinance that could make the project possible with conditional use permits.
Gaughan Companies, based in Forest Lake, Minn., is applying for three conditional use permits: one to allow the building to be as tall as 45 feet; one to have residential units on the ground floor in what’s considered a business district; and one to disturb more than 10,000 square feet of ground.
The former hospital building Gaughan proposes to tear down and replace with its “Osceola Bluffs” development has been empty for about 15 years. The company says it is in “hazardous condition” and the development will be a net benefit for the St. Croix River.
“Our argument is that the more people who live and work near the river, in an environmentally responsible way, the better off the natural environment will be,” the company says. “People will engage with the land and the river, and become connected to it.”
But the building will also be an unmistakable sign of human civilization to many users of the St. Croix River. The busiest access site on the river, Osceola Landing, is located across the water and slightly downstream.
To receive a conditional use permit to build as high as 45 feet, Gaughan will need to meet several criteria, including that the building is “visually inconspicuous” from the river “during the summer months.”
Digital mock-ups provided by Gaughan show that the building will be almost completely hidden by trees from the river during growing the season. The company says that the building “will not be visible [from the river] during ‘leaf on’ periods.” (The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does not only protect summer scenery.)
Gaughan says the sides of the building facing the river will be earth-toned, without exterior lighting. Materials to be used will be concrete with rock face, fiber cement siding, and brick. The company pledges “only selected cutting” of dead or invasive trees along the bluff, and “there will be no attempt to clear out vegetation to enhance ‘views.’”
The new building would have a footprint of approximately 36,000 square feet. It is proposed to include 102 apartments ranging in size from studio to two bedroom. It will also have two ground-level retail spaces designed for a fitness center and a restaurant. It will have 178 parking spaces spread between street, surface lots, and underground parking.
Gaughan touts what it says are numerous environmental benefits of the proposal, along with providing housing, business opportunities, and other community needs. It points to an engineering firm’s claim that the project will actually reduce impervious surfaces like roofs and parking lots that increase rain runoff.
Gaughan will present the plan to the village’s Planning Commission next Wednesday, May 24 at 6 p.m. A final review and public hearings for the conditional use permits are scheduled for Tuesday, June 6 at 7 p.m. Meetings are held at the Osceola Village Hall, 310 Chieftain Street, Osceola, Wisconsin.