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New county rules control riverside development

After accepting three amendments from the floor last week, the St. Croix County Board adopted a revised county ordinance regulating development along the St. Croix River.

The new law incorporates changes in Wisconsin Administrative Code NR 118, which sets standards for property use along the Lower St. Croix River. In St. Croix County that includes land in the towns of Troy, Hudson, St. Joseph and Somerset.

After the three amendments were approved, the regulations were adopted by a unanimous vote of the County Board, followed by an outbreak of applause from supervisors pleased to have completed their work on the often-controversial regulations.

These are the three changes made during the June 21 board meeting:

  • The entire section on lighting was eliminated. The section, which applied only to new lighting, said lights should be visually inconspicuous, exterior lights should be hooded or in someway controlled so as not to light the sky, and motion detectors or timers should be used so that outdoor lights would be used only when needed.

  • The section setting penalties for removing vegetation in violation of the ordinance was changed to say that replacement trees must be two inches in diameter at breast height (4½ feet from the ground). The proposal as it came to the board specified three inches in diameter.

  • The requirement for storm water management plans was eased to say that the plans must infiltrate all the storm water that would fall on the impervious development during a 1½-inch rainfall. The proposal as it came to the board said that in the case of new structures or additions, the plan would have to accommodate all the runoff from both the proposed and the existing structure.

    All three changes were among those proposed by Hudson Supervisor Mark Erickson.

    While he said the draft ordinance "generally is great," Erickson said he and others object to conditions in the county code that are more restrictive than state regulations.

    If the County Board really wants to protect the St. Croix, it should send letters to Minnesota officials "requesting that they get off their butts and pass something that comes close to protecting the St. Croix River," said Erickson, who lives in Hudson along the river.

    "Various landowner and citizen groups have been trying to add consistency and reason to these regulations for years," said Erickson. "NR 118 was recently revised to reflect the efforts of hundreds of concerned citizens and is the result of nearly nine years of meetings."

    As seen from the river, the Wisconsin shoreline looks much as it did years ago, said Erickson.

    "Minnesota has been far less restrictive by comparison, even allowing privately owned marinas which have been dredged into the shoreline," he said. "Clear cutting of bluffs, zero setback from bluff lines and greater densities are a few examples of situations found across the river which would never fly in our state."

    Erickson said the county rules should comply with NR 118, but it's not fair to make the county code more restrictive than state regulations.

    "Perhaps it is an idea that is before its time," said Planning and Zoning Committee Chairwoman Jan Zoerb of the lighting restrictions proposed by her committee. She said people who live in rural areas often object to bright lights, but lighting isn't addressed in NR 118. Zoerb didn't oppose the amendment removing the section on lighting.

    Erickson maintained, and others agreed, that the smaller diameter trees would have a better chance of surviving, especially on the steep slopes along the river.

    In a lot of cases, minor changes to sites can redirect water runoff, said Planning and Zoning Director Dave Fodroczi, responding to the suggestion to amend the proposal regarding storm water runoff plans. He said the focus is small rain storms, which can do a lot of damage.

    Supervisor Ralph Swenson wondered if that same runoff standard is applied in other areas of the county.

    Zoning Specialist Jenny Shillcox said that as permits and variances are approved, stronger runoff standards are applied in sensitive areas.

    Erickson's motion to eliminate the storm water plan reference to existing development was adopted by the board.

    As she opened the discussion early in the meeting, Shillcox listed revisions made to the proposed ordinance in the last few weeks. Some of those changes are:

  • Dock, piers and wharves no longer would need a county permit. Shillcox said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources already regulates those structures.

  • Separate structure setback measurements were set for existing and new buildings.

  • Small projects - those under 100 square feet - were exempted from storm water and erosion control requirements.

  • Language requiring that new roads be designed to ensure that vehicles would be visually inconspicuous was removed. The roads themselves still must be inconspicuous.
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