Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Nine Acres Added to Park

Sewer fees-issue settled, clearing way for open space efforts

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Friday, May 7, 2004

by Laura Yuen

The rustic, rolling woods of Patrick Eagan Park will grow by nine acres -- an expansion touted as the first major success in recent efforts to broaden the city's green-space corridor.

After the Eagan City Council cleared the way Tuesday to acquire a parcel of private property bordering the park, land preservationists are setting their sights on safeguarding two larger nearby pieces of land.

Securing the small parcel, owned by Lori and Lee Anderson, proved that a host of groups -- from local green-space advocates to the state Department of Natural Resources -- could partner successfully to protect open land, supporters of the acquisition say.

"Now we have that demonstration, we can move onto more challenging projects," said Jack Conrad of Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway.

City Council Member Mike Maguire agreed, calling the most recent project a partial road map that will help navigate acquisition of the larger corridor. Now the city will work with the county to secure a permanent conservation easement on the property.

Even in the latest purchase, the various groups got a peek at challenges that can arise.

Over the past several weeks, the deal hit a minor sticking point when the city declined to waive $4,482 in sewer trunk fees on two of the 11 acres the Andersons will continue to live on.

The city levies those fees whenever land is divided. Because the Andersons agreed to carve their property into two pieces -- the new park addition and the area on which they reside -- the city had a responsibility to recapture some of the cost of installing sewer trunks in the area, council members said.

"The council didn't fold under that difficult challenge; it stepped up," Maguire said. "We stayed true to those fiscal responsibilities."

The Trust for Public Land, which helped coordinate the deal with the landowners, had argued that other cities typically waived such charges when the trust helped them preserve land. In this case, Eagan did waive the charges for the nine acres it will acquire.

The nonprofit has "reluctantly agreed" to pay the remaining trunk fees, said Bob McGillivray, a project manager consultant for the trust. Holding out would have delayed the acquisition and could have jeopardized some funding for the project, he said.

The organization maintains it didn't know the city was planning to charge the fees until earlier this year. But the city said the trust was informed of the customary fees as early as a year ago when the land was appraised.

Nonetheless, all parties are cheering the completion of the first puzzle piece in the envisioned greenway. As the local preservationists see it, the network of forest and open space eventually would stretch across two miles from the city's core southward to Lebanon Hills Regional Park.

"Even if we had our quibbles, we're happy to have this get done," said John Ward, a board member of the greenway group. "It would be sort of petty of us to go yucky."

Securing the $900,000 piece of land required commitments from a number of agencies. The city doled out $180,000, and the county and state paid for the rest.

The city will spend another $70,000 over the next decade to inspect and monitor the site for erosion, refuse or diseases of trees or plants.

Now, groups are looking to safeguard the Caponi Art Park. Sculptor and retired Macalester College art professor Tony Caponi and his wife, Cheryl, want to preserve their 60-acre site -- used as a center of art, open space and outdoor performances -- in perpetuity.

So far, the county and local governments have tentatively agreed to steer a total of about $1.6 million towards buying half of the art park, said Cheryl Caponi. The parties are waiting on two state grants that could help them lock in the deal, which the trust hopes to close by winter.

The art park's governing board will be responsible for raising money to help acquire 20 of the remaining acres. The Caponis will likely donate the final 10 acres to the board, which will be charged with overseeing the entire park.

Ken Vraa, a member of the board since retiring from overseeing the city's parks and recreation department, said he's been encouraged by the pledges from the city and county. He hopes those commitments will make it easier for the board to kick off its campaign drive in the private sector.

Over the years, potential donors had asked board members what the city and county have done to back up the project.

"The answer was always supportive in terms of praise and recognition," Vraa said. "Those are wonderful and necessary, but there's nothing that speaks louder than cold, hard cash."

Further down the road, greenway advocates hope to extend the corridor to a 135-acre farm north of Eagan Park owned by Patrick McCarthy.

Dakota County is interested in including McCarthy's land as part of its farmland and natural-area protection program, said Al Singer, the program manager. McCarthy has already donated an additional 34-acre conservation easement, valued at about $3 million, to the county.

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