No Exit

Animosity between residents of a small east metro town leaves them stuck with each other

"My clients want to live in a peaceful retirement community," insists Jon Kingstad, the attorney representing the Swensons and Parr. "They're retired people. They want to live in peace and quiet."

Fearing is no stranger to controversy. She's been involved in at least a dozen civil lawsuits in Washington County over the last decade. A previous Fearing-planned housing development in Hastings ran off the rails after she made similar discrimination complaints to the Department of Human Rights that were deemed unfounded.

"There seems to be no end to the litigation," Kingstad says. "Every comment that we make seems to create more lawsuits from Marlene Fearing."

Love thy neighbor: Marlene Fearing is at war with her fellow residents of Lake St. Croix Villas
Paul Demko
Love thy neighbor: Marlene Fearing is at war with her fellow residents of Lake St. Croix Villas

At this point it hardly matters who's right or wrong. Bickering and bringing lawsuits has become a way of life for the residents of Lake St. Croix Villas, reaching beyond the primary parties involved, leaving unwitting residents trapped in the middle. Kathryn Smith purchased a home in the development in March 2003. The retired speech pathologist and widow says she immediately sensed trouble when she was given three different directives on who was to collect her homeowners' association fees. But even after the Washington County lawsuit was filed, she initially assumed that the dispute could be resolved amicably.

"In my whole life I have never seen childish behavior like this," Smith says. "This is not adult behavior that is going on here. This is childish behavior."

Smith would like nothing better than to sell her home. But at present it's impossible to get anything close to market value for property in Lake St. Croix Villas. Roughly half of the 16 units are currently unoccupied and the pending litigation would scare off most potential buyers. "It's unbelievable that in the United States of America you could buy a home and not be able to sell it," Smith sighs. "But that's where we sit right now. We can't rent because that's against the bylaws. We can't sell because of the lawsuit."

In other words, the residents of Lake St. Croix Villas are stuck with each other.

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