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Local move may ripple up and down St. Croix Valley

October 17, 2013
Associated Press

LAKELAND, Minn. (AP) — A local zoning change could test Minnesota's ability to regulate development along the scenic St. Croix River.

The Lakeland City Council this week approved plans for a house about 15 feet from the river bluff despite objections from the state Department of Natural Resources and the St. Paul suburb's own planning commission. State rules usually require at least a 40 foot setback to try to preserve the natural view from the river.

Tuesday's decision puts the city on a potential collision course with the DNR, which has threatened to sue.

DNR area hydrologist Molly Shodeen said each variance from rules protecting the St. Croix weakens the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

"We are waiting to review the city's final decision and findings of fact to support the decision before deciding whether to pursue a legal challenge," she said.

Kathleen and Michael Quinn plan to raze a one-story house they bought in 2011, and replace it on a similar footprint with a two-story design that they say will be less obtrusive than the old house.

"We believe the design that we chose represented a vast improvement over the current structure on the property," she said. "Quite frankly, we were shocked and disappointed by the actions of the DNR."

It's not clear how strong the DNR's legal case might be. This is the first such zoning case along the St. Croix River to draw DNR's objections since a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in 2010, which held that the DNR did not have authority to supersede local zoning decisions along the St. Croix under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act because the Legislature never explicitly gave that authority to the agency. The 2011 Legislature then made it easier to get zoning rule variances by allowing them if a property presents "practical difficulties."



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