Osceola board approves bluff development plan

Apartment building clears more hurdles but legal questions continue.




3 minute read

Mock-up of Osceola Bluffs apartment building (Courtesy Gaughan Cos.)

A controversial apartment building proposed for the St. Croix River bluff in Osceola has received approval by the village board. Earlier this year, the board approved permits for the Osceola Bluffs development; at a recent board meeting, the board approved the company’s site plan.

Forest Lake, Minnesota-based Gaughan Company is seeking to build a four-story building at the former hospital site in the village. It would include 99 residential units and two ground level spaces for retail businesses. The latest design calls for it to be just less than 45 feet tall at its highest point — meeting height requirements by mere inches. The village of Osceola previously approved a Conditional Use Permit for the building to exceed the normal height restriction of 35 feet, allowing 45 feet total height.

The company says its development will be a positive for the community. Its application said the building will decrease the amount of impervious surfaces and stormwater runoff from the site.

Local residents and river advocates have opposed the proposal as an inappropriate intrusion on the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River. They say it will affect views from the popular Osceola Landing, as well as for people on the river itself. Despite the village board’s approval of the project, advocates have warned a lawsuit may be necessary to stop the project.

The village’s planning commission first voted to approve to approve the plan on July 20, with members Dennis Tomfohrde and Kim O’Connell voted against it.

“O’Connell and Tomfohrde feel that Gaughan has yet to prove the building follows NR-118 and the burden of proof is on the developer to prove further that it is visually inconspicuous,” city administrator Devin Swanberg told the board. “They feel with the facts they have right now they cannot say they know for sure if it would or would not be visible from the middle of the river. Many of the public comments during the hearing echoed this sentiment.”

Estimated sight lines. (Guaghan Co.)

Five days later, the full village board then voted to approve it, passing the site plan unanimously. It is contingent on the company receiving all necessary state permits and getting sign designs approved by the Heritage Preservation Commission.

River advocates have said the proposal clearly contradicts state laws adopted after the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as part of the state’s role in management of the federally-protected river. At a hearing in June about the project’s Conditional Use Permit, Bill Neuman of the St. Croix Scenic Coalition pointed out to the board that advocates had hired a court reporter to produce an “accurate record that we could admit to court.”

Any legal challenge to the development may come down to the meaning of “inconspicuous.” That’s the word used in state law to restrict new construction on the St. Croix. The state defines it as “difficult to see, or not readily noticeable, in summer months as viewed from at or near the mid-line of the Lower St. Croix River.”

Neuman told the board in June that Gaughan has admitted that the top seven feet of the building will in fact be visible on the river. But the village administrator said the design does not meet the criteria for conspicuous, saying that “inconspicuous” is not the same as “invisible.”


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11 responses to “Osceola board approves bluff development plan”

  1. Lincoln Duncanson Avatar
    Lincoln Duncanson

    I think there is a need for understanding and compromise with this project. The old hospital building has been sitting for years, deteriorating beyond any hope of salvaging it. Now, with an opportunity to use that site for something that will benefit the community and still blend in with the St Croix River environment would seem to be a reasonable solution.

  2. Penny Van Kampen Avatar
    Penny Van Kampen

    But why build it visible from the river at all? Why is this too much to require? It would still be “a benefit the community,” if that is the objective.

  3. Lynn Avatar

    There are building height restrictions for homes built on the river bluff in St Croix County. Why no restrictions for the height of this new structure?

  4. Angela Brown Avatar
    Angela Brown

    It’s crazy how rules can be broken if you have enough money. Nothing is supposed to be visible from the river. What’s the point of protecting the St Croix of rules don’t apply to everyone? The only thing that river is protected from is poor people and the locals. It’s overrun with canoe rental and now we can have an eye soar building to look at too. I’m the 70s the government forcibly bought land from families who had had it for years to “protect” the river. This and the rental companies are a spit in the face to those families and the rest of us.

    1. Angela Brown Avatar
      Angela Brown

      *in the 70’s
      I should have did some proofreading

  5. LeAnne Smith Avatar
    LeAnne Smith

    Hopefully Gaughan is a more reputable company than Green Halo, the builder chosen by St. Croix Falls City Council to develop city riverfront. Green Halo went bankrupt in July, had not paid subcontractors and left previous clients with thousands of dollars in repairs to their new homes due to poor workmanship.

  6. Pete Paidar Avatar
    Pete Paidar

    Once built this will be the next blight pitched on the bluff of the scenic River and our historic small town. The developer worked with village staff, engineer,and DNR to craft rules to make this plan fit the site. The Village approved the plans reliant on developer representations contrary to Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission denials and lack of public support who were silenced by the removal of the public forum. The only voice the Trustees hear is Gaughans over questions and concerns, related to size, cost, infrastructure, off site planning and negative impact on community and disregard for the Scenic St Croix and it’s regulations. If you don’t support the plan contact Deb Rose Village President and sign our petition on change.org link below site.https://chng.it/Vw68HRVbQs
    Pete Paidar

  7. Clayton Avatar

    Why is everyone up in arms over this project.
    I see plenty of homes from the river side and that is not ruining my time or views.
    If im at this part of the river, it will only be for a few minutes and certainly won’t be jacking my head up and staring.
    This project is good for the community all around financially and to be rid of that old monstrosity. Im actually jealous. I would love to live there.
    So everyone just relax, it’s going to be fine.

  8. Tracey Gagliardi Avatar
    Tracey Gagliardi

    My family has fought to keep are land and constantly having to put up the traffic and garbage on the river .they put every thing we do through a microscope. Permits for this meetings for that meanwhile the canoe rentals are treating the river like a trash can no bathrooms so you know where they are going but we tried to repair a old cabin that’s been here way before nsp donated land and they came out with this wild river act what a joke that was all they needed to try and take everyone’s land and now let’s start building luxury apartments just goes to show if you got the money just like Hubbard he got to build what he wanted

    1. Clayton Avatar

      Yes they might be using the river as a toilet but it all ends up in new Orleans so we’re good.

  9. J Willis Avatar
    J Willis

    Another rich developer boondoggle. Keep this development off the river.


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Osceola board approves bluff development plan