While the decision on a townhouse proposal next door to the Caponi Art Park is a few weeks off, things are moving along behind the scenes that could make the final decision irrelevant.
"I make no excuses for the fact that I would like to develop this land," Eagan developer Ray Miller told the Eagan City Council during its Feb. 3 meeting. "But I am open to talking to any group that is willing and able to purchase the property before development. I will sell it at my cost of acquisition and the cost of what I have put into it so far."
Those possibilities are moving ahead as the community group Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway continues to work with the Trust for Public Land to pursue buying and preserving the land, said Jack Conrad, a member of the Friends group.
The Eagan Core Greenway is the name given to green space stretching from the area around Patrick Eagan Park to Lebanon Hills Regional Park, including the Caponi Art Park.
"Eagan's local representative from the Trust for Public Land, Bob Mcgillivray, said that he would be more than happy to sit down with Mr. Miller to discuss what possibilities exist to preserve the property," Conrad said.
Conrad said one possibility being discussed is having the TPL obtain an option to buy the seven-acre property east of Caponi Art Park to secure more time to shore up funding options.
However, Miller also told the council he didn't want his offer to sell the land to affect the city's consideration of the plan. He said a potential sale could happen despite the city's actions.
To go ahead with the development on the seven-acre parcel, Miller needs the land rezoned from single-family residential to planned development.
The rezoning issue had been before the Eagan Advisory Planning Commission Jan. 27 before coming to the council. Although the commission raised concerns about the proposal, members decided it met the requirements for moving ahead.
The 16-unit townhouse development would have access on the south side of Diffley Road west of the entrance to the Lexington/Diffley Athletic Fields.
The Feb. 3 council meeting was at times a mirror likeness of the Planning Commission meeting, with Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway members and other Eagan residents telling the council the project isn't right for the property.
Paul Sears, a 19-year resident of Eagan, said the development would cause irreversible damage in the middle of an open area.
"There is what I call a creeping tackiness affecting the quality of life in the city," Sears said. "We have more and more commercial development and are losing open space. Every small change of this nature is a permanent loss in our city." Conrad said the development should be denied because it is incompatible with the property and its surroundings.
"The fact of the matter is the townhouses will only stack too many people on top of each other and the park," Conrad said.
Former City Councilmember Sandra Masin also urged the council not to be too hasty on the decision. She said the neighboring Caponi Art Park was first discussed by the city's Advisory Parks Commission when she was a member in 1985.
"We are so close to getting that land sealed up," Masin said. "I urge you to please keep this going until we have a chance to complete this vision. To give this away when you have the ability to save it for the future would be a real mistake."
However, Councilmember Mike Maguire drew a line between the Caponi Art Park and the neighboring property.
"This piece of property was not in any of the plans advanced as part of the Art Park," Maguire said. "We've made a commitment to preserving the Art Park, but it would be a misnomer to think that if we allow this to be developed, our commitment to the Art Park would be any less."
The main snag for the issue so far has been the property's access onto Diffley Road.
Because of Dakota County's requirements for the access to the development and the city's refusal to consider access through the Lexington/Diffley park, Miller said he is caught in a catch-22 on the property.
"I feel that what is presented to you is the best access under the conditions," Miller said.
Dakota County is requiring a "right-in, right-out" only entrance to the development from eastbound Diffley. An existing median on Diffley would block access to the development from the west.
However, the Eagan Police Department is concerned drivers could either attempt an illegal U-turn on westbound Diffley to access the property or would be tempted to drive the wrong way on Diffley when exiting the property to get around the median. Eagan Fire Marshal Dale Wegleitner has also raised concerns about emergency vehicle response times to the property because of the median issue.
The property was before the city twice before last year, with both proposals being withdrawn before the city acted on them, City Planner Mike Ridley said. The first plan had called for access through the neighboring Lexington/Diffley Athletic Fields but was withdrawn as the city was preparing findings of fact for denial.
The second plan had access on Diffley farther west from the current proposal, which would have required lengthening the median, and adding more turn lanes to Diffley. That plan was withdrawn because of the financial impacts of the street improvements to the developer, Ridley said.
City Attorney Mike Dougherty said that while Miller isn't entitled to access to the development through the city's park, he is entitled to access on Diffley Road.
The property has a driveway easement through the park, but that is for a single-family home and not for a multi-family development, Dougherty said.
Public Works Director Tom Colbert said Dakota County's new spacing requirements require one-fourth of a mile between "full accesses" on county roads.
Because a left-turn lane across the eastbound lanes of Diffley would be considered a full access intersection and there is already such an intersection at Diffley's intersection with Lexington Avenue, the county would be unlikely to agree to such changes, Colbert said.
Dougherty said the city would have to go on record and ask the county to consider the waiver of their rules because the county won't accept such requests from private developers. Even then there is no guarantee that the county would accept the request. "I'm not sure how the county will respond to that request from the city to variate from their standards when there is another access available instead of allowing full access," Colbert said.
Mayor Pat Geagan said that like most people he would like to see the property remain as it is, but doesn't know how that could be accomplished.
"Over the past few weeks I have been asked on behalf of the city to buy Diamond T Ranch, Carriage Hills Golf Course, the Lost Spur Country Club, Parkview Golf Course, the Anderson property and the McCarthy property," Geagan said. "I think we all know we would have a hard time making that happen. In a perfect world we all would like to see it stay green, but I'm not sure if that can happen."
Councilmember Meg Tilley suggested the council take more time to give the Trust for Public Land to study the issue while the city can also examine what access would be safest for the development.
Councilmember Peggy Carlson agreed that the access issue needs more evaluation before the city can grant the rezoning and approve the plat for the development.
"I feel so frustrated with the whole access issue," Carlson said. "If I were the developer I would just scream. The county is saying you can have it, but we're going to give it to you in an unsafe place."
The council agreed to delay the issue to its Monday, March 1, meeting to give staff more time to evaluate the options and provide more analysis on which access would serve the development best.
That meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Eagan Municipal Center, 3830 Pilot Knob Road. For more information on the issue, contact the city at 651-675-5000 or visit the Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway Web site at www.EaganCoreGreenway.org.