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Taxes not paid? No subdivision

Landowners seeking approval to subdivide property in St. Croix County must now prove that real estate taxes on the land have been paid.

Last week the County Board amended its land division ordinance to say that certified survey maps must include a certificate from the county treasurer stating there are no unpaid taxes or special assessments on any of the land included in the map.

Treasurer Cheryl Slind said state law already requires this for larger subdivisions but doesn't address the possibility of unpaid taxes when smaller parcels are subdivided into just a few home sites.

She said in some cases owners sold lots and the new owners didn't find out taxes hadn't been paid on the underlying parcel until the treasurer's office began the tax deed process years later.

"We have to go back and find out who owned it at the time and let the new owner know taxes aren't paid," said Slind. She said that while the previous owner owes the taxes, the new owner could lose part of his land when the county attempts to collect the bill.

"It doesn't happen a lot, but when it does, it's a real headache," said Slind. She said new owners are not happy to find themselves caught up in a situation that should have been handled by the previous owner.

The problem is further complicated because county tax collectors must "go from resolving (a back tax issue) with one owner to resolving it with three, four or five people," said Planning and Zoning Director Dave Fodroczi.

"It probably doesn't happen all that often, but when it does, it's a real mess," he agreed.

Slind said the new process won't guarantee problems won't arise with current-year taxes. She said she can certify that all taxes due for previous years are paid, but county staff can only advise sellers and buyers to make provisions for taxes due the year the land is sold.

Conservation design

Last week supervisors also amended county law to allow half-acre lots for "conservation design" developments in shore land areas.

When the county adopted new conservation design standards, it didn't address shore land, said Fodroczi. Shore land is defined in county law as land within 300 feet of a river or stream, property on the landward edge of a floodplain or land within 1,000 feet of a lake, pond or flowage of the St. Croix River.

"We simply missed the shore land district," said Fodroczi, adding that conservation design is especially appropriate there.

If the ordinance hadn't been changed, the minimum lot size in shore land areas would have stayed at two acres and that would have precluded conservation design, he said.

The intent of encouraging conservation development is "to recognize the sensitive areas of a site" such as shores, wetlands, flood plains and steep slopes, said Fodroczi, and to steer construction away from those areas and concentrate houses on parts of the property more suitable for building.

The board also approved shore land grading and filling requirements to make them consistent with standards in the Lower St. Croix Riverway Overlay District.

The standards now say:

  • Filling and grading of less than 2,000 square feet within 300 feet of the ordinary high water mark, that doesn't involve any sloped areas 12 percent or greater and is not an area likely to be inundated by high water, is allowed without a permit.
  • Filling and grading of less than 1,000 square feet within 300 feet of the ordinary high water mark, that involves any sloped areas greater than 12 percent and less than 25 percent and is not an area likely to be inundated by high water, is allowed without a permit.
  • Filling and grading of larger areas up to 10,000 square feet is allowed with a land use permit if certain standards are met.
  • Filling and grading of any area equal to or greater than 10,000 square feet requires a special exception permit.
  • Construction or land disturbance, except for public improvements, affecting slopes 25 percent or greater is prohibited.

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