Homeowner in Lakeland sued by city

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2012 - 10:31 PM

Jim Space, who lives on St. Croix River, says suit's political.

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James Space pointed to his docks, which aren’t in place, located on his property on the St. Croix River in Lakeland. The city said he is using his property as a private marina against local codes. Space said the city has a vendetta against him for running against the sitting mayor.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Jim Space of Lakeland owns 270 feet of residential riverfront along the St. Croix River where he docks his dozen boats, including a 56-foot yacht, and has friends who often pull in with their big boats.

City officials don't approve and are suing him. They say Space has way too many boats there and is running a commercial marina in violation of the local code.

The city is taking Space to trial over his large dock, as well as other alleged ordinance violations, including replacing a driveway and sidewalk last year without necessary permits.

No way, Space insists, is he running a commercial marina. He calls the allegations baseless and politically motivated.

Now, in the latest legal challenge, a city prosecutor has charged the retired developer with a misdemeanor crime, saying he "willfully" violated an order to halt construction work on his property despite numerous notices from the city and two stop-work orders.

Space, 65, is girded for a July 16 trial on the criminal charge, while the city's civil lawsuit proceeds separately.

"I have no intentions of settling under their terms. None. Absolutely none," he said recently at his three-story home on Quixote Avenue as waves lapped at his pier.

"It isn't just me. It's those who are around me, my neighbors, my friends. And it isn't just the city of Lakeland. It's everyone across the entire country. If you let one tiny community take away your freedoms, where does it stop?"

The City Council, at the recommendation of the city attorney, has taken the matter to court to stop further violations, said Mayor Brian Zeller.

"He put in a driveway without getting the required permit," said City Attorney Nicholas Vivian. "He's violating the city's impervious surface regulations, and he's operating an impermissible marina down there."

Space blames Zeller and the city clerk, saying he has been singled out since he ran for public office.

"My opinion is that this was politically motivated and a vendetta," said Space, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Zeller in 2010.

Zeller called that contention "ridiculous," noting that Space should have simply gotten the required permits. The mayor said three council members are handling the legal matters with the attorneys, but he has recused himself from any involvement.

The civil suit in Washington County District Court says, in part, that Space has operated a commercial marina in excess of the number of boats that could be supported by the capacity of his property.

The code defines a commercial marina as an area of concentrated small craft mooring with ancillary facilities that may include fueling, repairs, sewage pump and storage. Its size can't exceed the "resource limitations" of the site and the needs of the residents. The code doesn't define what's meant by "resource limitations."

Space said he has plenty of room for his and his visitors' boats.

That's for the court to decide, Vivian said.

"The court takes all the facts into account regarding the property, the size of the dock, the number of boats, other docks on the river, and other reasonable uses associated with residential property," he said.

In trouble over concrete, too

Space said he decided in 2010 to replace his driveway and sidewalk because the existing concrete was worn and pitted. It had been installed in 1959 and was flood-damaged. He said he waited seven months for the city to issue him a permit, but the city eventually rejected his permit request, saying his plan included too much impervious surface.

Space put in his two-tone stamped concrete driveway and sidewalk anyway and used the old concrete as rip-rap to line his shoreline in 2011.

Later, in a meeting with officials from the city and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Space admitted dumping unauthorized fill without getting a city permit, court papers say.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed Space to remove the rubble he had placed along the shoreline. But the city notified him that any dredging to do so would require another permit.

The city also contends that with the driveway, Space improperly increased the amount of impervious surface, which can increase water runoff in the flood plain. He disputes that.

"He wants to take the position that he didn't negatively impact the property and it's not the issue. The issue is that he didn't get a permit before he started work in the Riverway District," Vivian said. "It's a sensitive area, the city has strict regulations, and permits are required to make sure that people are complying with those regulations."

Vivian said if the city wins, as it has in other cases, Space may have to remove the driveway, apply for a permit and reinstall the driveway.

Meanwhile, in yet another dispute, Space said the city is telling him that his visitors can't park on the north end of his property, near a public beach.

"Why would they want to tell me where I could park my cars? Why would they want to tell me that eight boats at my dock is too many? It's none of their business how many boats I have on my dock. It's none of their business, the number of cars I have in my driveway," he said.

"The last time I checked, this was a free country."

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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