Court rejects Hudson development over river impacts

Ruling in lawsuit says city violated state rules when it approved variances for apartment building.




3 minute read

Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360

Protection of the St. Croix River took a big leap forward on Leap Day 2024. A St. Croix County, Wis. judge put a proposed development near the St. Croix River in downtown Hudson on hold, ruling yesterday that the city improperly issued variances for the structure. The Reuter Walton project would see a four-story building filling an entire city block, about a hundred yards from the river. Circuit court judge Michael Waterman found that the Hudson Board of Appeals failed to follow state laws to protect the river when making decisions about the construction.

Legislation first passed by Wisconsin lawmakers in 1973 sought to create standard zoning rules along the lower St. Croix River. The law known as N.R. 118 “requires counties, cities and villages regulate land use to protect the unique and environmentally sensitive bluffline areas of the lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.” It sets height and other limits, and rules for how local governments can permit projects that don’t meet them.

A lawsuit filed last summer by Wild Rivers Conservancy and other parties argued that Hudson officials violated N.R. 118 when they approved five variances for the Reuter Walton project. Judge Waterman agreed.

“The legislature has deemed protection of the St. Croix River to be a matter of public interest that will benefit the health and welfare of the citizens of Wisconsin,” Waterman wrote. “The legislature emphasized the importance of uniform zoning along the St. Croix River and continued inclusion in the national scenic rivers system.”

The project would feature 109 apartments, space for retail, a fitness center and other commercial use on the ground floor, and underground parking. The developer requested five variances from regulations, including three violations of N.R. 118, and two violations of Hudson’s own city code. The three variances to N.R. 118 the court included exceeding the height limit of forty-five feet, alteration of a slope, and violating bluffline setback rules.

A critical part of the argument was that local governments can allow variances to N.R. 118 only when the Department of Natural Resources supports the exemptions. In this case, the DNR actually opposed three of the variances, telling Hudson it recommended denial.

“Nothing justifies why a 4-story building is a necessity. As presented the reasons are largely a circumstance or desire of the applicant, not an issue with the property,” wrote Mike Wenholz, DNR shoreland program coordinator, at the time.

But the city ignored the state agency, and approved the developer’s requests.

“Without DNR consent, the Board lacked the authority to grant the variances,” Judge Waterman wrote. “By doing so, the Board exceeded its lawful authority, and its decision must be reversed.”

The court also overturned the variances to city code, saying it would not be an “unreasonable hardship” if the developer was forced to meet zoning rules.

River advocates celebrated the decision as a win for the St. Croix and the laws that keep it wild.

“I’m thrilled with the legal ruling handed down today by Judge Waterman. As we’ve said in the past, we are not anti-development, but municipalities should follow the laws and ordinances designed to maintain the St. Croix’s wild and scenic values,” said Deb Ryun, executive director of Wild Rivers Conservancy. “It’s a good day for the river.”

A spokesperson for the developer told the Star Tribune the company is “evaluating the impact” on its plans. An attorney for the city of Hudson said they appreciated the court clarifying the DNR’s role in approving variances and enforcing riverway regulations.

In a similar case in Osceola, where different plaintiffs are challenging a proposed building on the bluff, a hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m., Wednesday, March 6 at the Polk County courthouse.

Read the complete ruling:


7 responses to “Court rejects Hudson development over river impacts”

  1. Donna Schmitz Avatar
    Donna Schmitz

    KUDOS to the Judge for standing tall!!!

  2. Kristie Anderson Avatar
    Kristie Anderson

    Excellent! Glad the people objected!

  3. Cyndi Avatar

    The protection put in place is there to ensure all future generations can enjoy the natural beauty the Croix offers. Not just until one decides to change it… Thanks to that judge for standing firm.

  4. Scout Avatar

    This wouldn’t have messed up the “bluffline” one bit and would have been great for the city. Good job finding a technicality though. Busybodies.

    1. Sarah Avatar

      Legislation is not a technicality. It’s the rule of law.

  5. Lisa l West Avatar
    Lisa l West

    It is a step in preserving the St Croix river. I only wish that could have happened in St Croix Falls, that put it at risk with the city’s run off of water leaving an eyesore and threatening the water quality of the river.

  6. Gravitycreatedlife Avatar

    A great day for nature, greedy developers….not so much



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Court rejects Hudson development over river impacts