HUDSON — More than a dozen homeowners’ association members turned out to last week’s St. Croix County Board meeting in response to the county’s acquisition of property for a new park.
Karrie Weaver, a member of the Starr Wood Homeowners’ Association board of directors, raised concerns Oct. 1 about the possibility of trespassing on conservancy land owned by the association.
The conservancy land is wedged between the Starr Wood neighborhood in the town of Hudson and the Eckert Blufflands on the St. Croix park. The park is technically open to the public, but has yet to undergo a formal planning process.
A parcel tucked along the conservancy space owned by Gary Zappa is being sold to the county, which will complete acquisitions for the 170-acre park. The county has not yet closed on the purchase, Community Development Director Ellen Denzer said.
Weaver told the County Board the association is seeking a memorandum of understanding with the county regarding access to the privately owned conservancy land — located on a steep ravine in the river bluffs — along with other considerations surrounding the adjoining parcels.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Oct. 8, Weaver said the county didn’t notify the association about the Zappa land acquisition until after a June 4 meeting that approved the sale. She said that, combined with contradictory information she said she’s heard from Denzer, has not established trust with the county.
“We just want reassurances and clarity around it,” Weaver said.
The homeowners association's concerns linger after an extensive process that saw St. Croix County acquire a parcel of Zappa’s land, and other land agreements, for $340,000.
St. Croix County Board on June 4 approved the sale, which exhausted remaining mitigation funds allocated to the county as part of the St. Croix River Crossing project.
The deal included the purchase of 2 acres from Zappa, as well as deed restriction limits, which confine future development on his property to one residential home that Zappa plans to build. Zappa also received utility access so he can access his property, according to the agreement.
“He’s spent 20 years hoping to find a way to develop a home or homes on this property,” Denzer told County Board members in June.
The 2 acres will become part of the new Eckert Blufflands on the St. Croix county park, a project for which the county has been acquiring land. The park, located just north of North Hudson in the town of Hudson, is in the “very, very preliminary” stages of development, said St. Croix County Administrator Pat Thompson.
During June’s meeting, Denzer laid out a list of what she described as advantages from the Zappa agreement, including bluffline protection, enhanced outdoor opportunities for park visitors and the possibility of a $340,000 donation from Zappa.
Zappa wrote a letter to County Board describing how, once his requests for a buildable lot are finalized, he would donate the funds to the county for future development of the park.
The Board of Adjustment this summer passed a variance and conditional-use permit allowing the project. Thompson said the $340,000 deal remained.
“That’s still the agreement,” he said Monday, Oct. 7.
Denzer’s list also described how the acquired property would adjoin Starr Wood’s conservancy space. That notion is among concerns raised by the association.
The association owns the conservancy space and has an agreement with Landmark Conservancy governing land use. A letter from Rick Remington, conservation director for Landmark Conservancy, to the county outlines concerns that park visitors might cross the boundary and access the private beach and trail — activity that “would be considered trespass and enforceable by the landowner,” the letter states.
“If use occurred to the extent that new ‘rogue’ trails were created, erosion were occurring, or other resource issues, it could become a conservation easement issue as well,” Remington wrote.
Weaver made clear at the meeting that she wants a county committee to address the association’s concerns.
Supervisor Dan Hansen, who chairs the Community Development Committee, said it’s too early for those issues to be debated since the Zappa sale hasn’t closed.
Denzer said a certified survey map must be completed before closing.
Weaver said the association is asking that its private property rights on “our little piece of heaven” be respected.
“We don’t want the county to turn it into part of their park,” she said.
Denzer said she expects signage to be a part of the eventual solution. “We respect their concerns,” she said of the association. “We’ll do what we can to be good neighbors.”
Denzer said those issues will be considered during the park’s formal planning process, tentatively set to begin in January 2020. Five other affected property owners who live near or within park boundaries will have their concerns heard as well, she said.
A request for proposal has been issued for a firm to lead the planning process. Denzer said the process should take about a year.