HUDSON — Residents from a town of Hudson neighborhood were left outraged after a St. Croix County committee meeting where their requests were rejected.
Neighborhood spokeswoman Karrie Weaver said she remained troubled nearly a week after the Oct. 17 Community Development Committee meeting where the panel discussed requests from the Starr Wood Homeowners’ Association. When she attempted to refute information stated by County Board Supervisor Dan Hansen, who chairs the committee, he ordered her away from the podium and threatened to summon bailiffs if she didn’t leave.
“I was literally shocked that we would be treated that disrespectfully,” Weaver said.
She is a member of the Starr Wood association, a group that has objected to the county’s efforts in the process of acquiring a neighboring land parcel slated to comprise a new county park — Eckert Blufflands on the St. Croix. The county is in the process of acquiring a parcel on the park’s southern boundary that adjoins Starr Wood-owned conservancy land.
Hansen said his only regret following the exchange was that Weaver “put me in that position.” He said he was following Robert’s Rules of Order, which do not allow for public comment during that portion of proceedings.
“I had to stop it because it was completely out of order,” he said of his threat to call bailiffs. “That’s the only tool in my box I could use at the moment.”
The association petitioned to have the county consider two items surrounding the land deal, which became late additions to the meeting agenda.
The requests sought two things: For the county to sign a memorandum of understanding that the association’s conservancy land was off-limits to the public and that an easement being acquired by the county should be released to the association to relieve confusion about access to the private land.
Committee members voted down both proposals, with County Board Supervisor Tom Coulter dissenting on both votes.
“I’m certain that I’m comfortable with the outcome of that vote,” Hansen said.
He said he sees the matter as dead now, but said he expects the park planning process to address neighbors’ concerns accordingly.
The association isn’t through with the issue. Weaver said the rift with the county has galvanized Starr Wood neighbors.
Association members met Oct. 22 to discuss the matter. Weaver said no specific plan for the future was outlined, but said “we are exploring all of our options with our attorney.”
“Our neighborhood is outraged at this treatment by our elected officials,” she said.
Points of contention
St. Croix County Corporation Counsel Scott Cox recommended rejecting the memorandum of understanding, saying such an agreement hasn’t been forged between the county and private landowners for other parks.
He made reference to statements by Michael Givens, a resident who spoke earlier at the meeting. Givens had described that while his property is enveloped by the park, he hasn’t experienced boundary problems with the county.
He said he was left confused about the Starr Wood request “versus us, that are directly in the middle of it, and we haven’t had an issue with Community Development or the county to this point.”
Cox also suggested precedent may be at stake with a memorandum of understanding involving Starr Wood.
“If we do this for this group, what would be the expectations of others?” he said.
Coulter argued the accommodation was warranted due to concerns stemming from comments made by Community Development Director Ellen Denzer at a June County Board meeting. He said those comments left some Starr Wood residents with the impression the county was going to make the private conservancy land part of the park.
“I think that has caused a lot of misunderstanding, some angst,” Coulter said. “This is a special situation that I think warrants special action on our part.”
Hansen defended Denzer’s remarks and said Starr Wood residents had been misinformed.
“The conservancy area is not the county’s property, was never referred to as the county’s property,” he said, later adding “there’s no reason to write a memorandum of understanding that’s going to create a bad impression with the people that we already have as neighbors.”
A video from the June 4 County Board meeting depicts a back-and-forth between Supervisor Roy Sjoberg and Denzer. In the video, Sjoberg asks her about Starr Wood Association and a land-trust organization: “Are they both aware that we might be inadvertently getting access to the river through that whole conservation easement?”
“Yes,” Denzer responds, adding that a representative from the land trust told her “that as far as he could see this was just a win-win situation.”
Weaver said in an Oct. 22 interview that Denzer’s statements, along with presentation slides she showed at the June meeting, sparked concerns within the association that the county was arranging a trail system that would foster trespassing. Meeting minutes from a St. Croix County Board of Adjustment meeting show Denzer met with Starr Wood members on Aug. 21 and confirmed the county had no intent to access the conservancy area and that it would post signs indicating the private property.
Weaver said a memorandum of understanding would have formalized those statements.
The proposal also included a line saying the county has no intent to join the homeowners’ association. Hansen said that concern involves a section of the land being acquired that touches the border of the association’s conservancy space. One interpretation of law could call for the county to join the association, he said, “but we’re not going to.”
The other request centered on a small parcel being acquired by the county for an easement. Denzer said the original hope was that strip of land — located on the association's conservancy land — could provide walk-in access to the park for Starr Wood residents.
The association doesn’t want that.
Weaver said the concern is that the public, in turn, could have walk-in access to private Starr Wood land.
“Trails are not one-way,” she said in an email.
Rather, the association wanted the county to release that strip to the association to minimize confusion for park hikers approaching the private property.
But Denzer said the county might seek to place utilities in that easement. Weaver contends the county's new 170-acre park contains more than enough room for utilities elsewhere and has no need for the strip of land.
In a self-described break from tradition, Hansen rejected the request and offered a successful motion for the county to retain the easement. Again, Coulter was the sole dissenter.
Weaver said Hansen's handling of the easement issue felt like retribution.
"He repeats the sentiment so many times it makes you wonder why he feels the need to do so," she said.