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Arena expansion plan faces setback

The New Richmond Hockey Association's plan to expand the Sports Center was derailed last week.

Judge Howard Cameron issued a written decision in a civil action filed in St. Croix County Court by Mark Maple.

Maple, who owns a home at 432 Oak Ave., moved to block the construction of an expanded ice arena after the New Richmond Zoning Board of Review approved a variance to allow for the building to proceed.

Maple claimed that the city, which owns the building but leases it to the New Richmond Youth Hockey Association, should not be allowed to approve variances for its own projects. He called it a conflict of interest.

In Cameron's decision, signed March 16, the Board of Appeals decision to grant a variance was overturned, but it was not due to many of Maple's objections.

In granting a variance, Cameron wrote, an "unnecessary hardship" must be shown by the landowner in order to justify action. While the zoning restrictions may have been inconvenient in light of what the hockey association wanted to accomplish, Cameron decided that it may have been a "self-created" hardship and not subject to relief by a variance.

Association officials want to expand the arena to accommodate a second sheet of ice for recreational skating and hockey practices. To accomplish the goal, however, the expanded building would extend eastward into the street right-of-way.

The project received variances to permit construction closer to the road than ordinances allow.

Another variance waived the minimum parking requirements the city has established for such facilities.

In response to the judge's ruling, Maple said he was glad to have been proven right.

"Hopefully it's done and over with," he said.

Now that the judge has ruled, City Attorney Ron Siler said the association has several options to consider.

They can either choose not to build, move the construction within the required setbacks or appeal the court's decision.

The New Richmond Youth Hockey Association said they are investigating their options before deciding what to do next.

"Although we are disappointed in the court's decision to overturn the Board of Appeals, we will explore all avenues to identify an appropriate resolution," said Mary Jo Hansen, association president. "Our goal is to provide the youth of this community a safe and inviting atmosphere both on and off the ice."