From: Jack G. Conrad [mailto:jackgconrad @ earthlink.net]
Sent: wednesday, November 30, 2005 12:15 AM
Subject: Carriage Hills Report -- from John Ward
The Eagan City Council held a special, early meeting tonight to vote on settling their lawsuit with Wensmann Realty. Some history: Carriage Hills Golf Course by the Lexington and Yankee Doodle intersection is long term fixture in Eagan since the 1970s. Over the years, stiff competition from other newer and larger courses have hurt profits; now it is closed. An owner tried to sell it for development in the mid 90s but this was contested by the original Carriage Hills Coalition and voted down by the city council because the Comprehensive Plan (the city land use "Bible") did not allow development.
Because of its designation as a no build zone, the course was sold at a discount to the present owner, Mr Rahn who I understand owns other golf courses. Even with that zoning, he recently started to sell it to Wensmann Reality of Eagan for development. Again, the present council cited the Comprehensive Guide Plan which does not designate this land for development. The land designations are not casual, the Comprehensive Guide Plan is required by statute, any citizen can be involved and it must mesh with the Metropolitan Council's overview of all area comprehensive plans.
Wensmann sued the city to be allowed to build 480 or so "units" on the land; the city lost at the lowest court because of a judge's interpretation of the situation and the case is on appeal. I have read that the local Metropolitan Council, cities in the state of Minnesota and in other states as well as national city planners are watching, some helping with "amicus briefs" which, I think, are legal reasoning as to why Eagan is in the right. This is an important case and may cast long shadows on future lawsuits.
There has been however, no public discussion by any of the city staff or city council of the case due to a "gag order" coming from somewhere. The public had no idea that Wensmann and the city were meeting and discussing an "accommodation" until a vote on a possible settlement was announced.
Fast forward: the city met today in a special meeting to consider a "Continguent Settlement Agreement" with Wensmann where the lawsuit is dropped if Wensmann goes through the application process again with a slightly different plan. There are details, but it is difficult to see this as anything but the first step in capitulation --- caving in to Wensmann while changing only a few trappings along the way.
The Council Chamber was packed -- several people spoke and asked questions. Every person I heard wanted to continue the lawsuit to keep the land undeveloped. Many questions were pointed "if you give up on the Comprehensive Plan, anybody can just sue for what they want?", "what is the city getting for giving up the lawsuit?" and "when is the gag order done?"
The answers weren't there, either "I can't say anything because of the gag order" from the city (true I am sure, they were frustrated) and George [somebody], a lawyer representing the firm the city hired, said the same thing in legal speak.
There was a handout and it looks like Wensmann gets everything they want; the entire 120 acres, 480 housing units and there is a 30 acre golf course. Even a non golfer like me knows that 30 acres isn't much of a course, particularly when there are the 480 housing units, cars, kids, pets and pedestrians all waiting to be hit by a stray ball. George, the lawyer for the city, kept calling it an "executive" golf course.
The City Council felt this was best and I wish I could believe them; this is their honest opinion based on information they cannot share because of the gag order. I have to wonder, though, how we ended up here, and why we aren't listening to the loud cries of our citizens by actively defending this land from developers. I expect that George the lawyer should be pounding the table and defending the city position on open space rather than presiding over what looks like a bald give away to developers.
Eagan Open Space Coalition