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Town Board previews River Crossing land-purchase process

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The Town of St. Joseph got the ball rolling on private real-estate acquisitions near the River Crossing project at a special meeting of the Town Board last week.

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No action was taken May 8 as the Town Hall continues to get citizen inquiries about selling property that might qualify for about $500,000 in River Crossing mitigation funding available for St. Joseph land purchases.

But board members got their first public look at a 75-acre parcel owned by farmer Eddie Gilstrom, the first St. Joseph resident to come forward. The property is located off County Road E near current River Crossing excavation, about a mile-and-a-half west of St. Joseph Town Hall.

Town Attorney Catherine Munkittrick also briefed the board about its options as the property-acquisition process moves forward.

“We haven’t really started looking at a lot of individual parcels yet,” board Chairman Dan Gavin noted after Munkittrick’s presentation. “This is our first step in doing that.”

Munkittrick outlined three basic acquisition options:

— Outright land purchases, under which the Town of St. Joseph would become the sole owner.

— Purchasing development rights and conservation easements, which would keep ownership in private hands, but allow the town to guide River-Crossing-related land use, subject to local zoning, deed restrictions and agreements with the owners.

— Working with land trusts and other organizations on public-interest land use, preservation and/or conservation through development-rights and conservation-easement transfers.

Gilstrom, meanwhile, said he had been soured by his experience 10-15 years ago, when he was approached about a plan to devote his property to agricultural preservation. He thought the River Crossing project might present a better opportunity.

“I could’ve developed that land years ago, but I wasn’t interested in selling it – I’ve never sold an inch,” Gilstrom told the board. “But I would be willing to talk to you people about it.”

He added that he would “rather not make it commercial” and that he would like to continue farming on the property “until I die.”

In April, St. Joseph Town Hall announced its local land-acquisition project for potential parkland use, conservation and many other purposes along the River Crossing route.

A special form for resident inquiries and input has been posted on St. Joseph’s website, townofstjoseph.com, and is available at Town Hall. People who spot land that might be suited for River Crossing can also contact Town Hall by telephone at (715) 549-6235.

The project is funded under a memorandum of understanding among the Town of St. Joseph, St. Croix County and the state Department of Natural Resources, each of which has about $500,000 for River Crossing land acquisitions. Two- and three-way property and development-rights acquisitions are also possible.

Meeting set on local gunfire

In other action last week, Gavin brokered a make-peace meeting between gun enthusiasts near Arbor Hills Drive and residents who have complained about repeated, multiple gunshots that seemed to come from an automatic weapon, sometimes for as long as four hours a day.

Gavin met with Munkittrick on the matter after the board’s May 8 meeting, where the residents’ complaints were first aired publicly. He repeated his reluctance to pursue a town gun ordinance to address the dispute.

“As we all know by now, we tried that in the past, and that was a very contentious situation,” Gavin noted of the town’s 2010 ordinance experiment, which was ultimately defeated.

“The board really hopes not to have to go down this trail again. We’re really hoping that these individuals would be willing to sit down together. We can accommodate a meeting right here at Town Hall, so our preference is, let’s give it a try.”

About a dozen Arbor Hills Drive-area residents, gun hobbyists and supporters attended last week’s board meeting, including a man previously identified by some as a gunshot culprit.

The man, however, said he was not the one who was shooting when sheriff’s deputies approached him about resident complaints. He added that he too has been bothered by excessive shooting from another property near his home.

“The picture that’s been painted is that I’m out there every day, just shooting all the time – which I’m not,” the man said. “I do shoot, but not every day.”

The man added that when a deputy talked to him about the complaints, he was told, “Please, continue what you’re doing. You’re not doing anything wrong.”

The meeting is tentatively scheduled for sometime over Memorial Day weekend at St. Joseph Town Hall.

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Chuck Nowlen
Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.
(715) 808-8286
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