Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

City Appeals Golf Course Order

Judge Told City to Change its Comprehensive Plan or Buy Carriage Hills Property

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Saturday, May 28, 2005

by Meggen Lindsay

The city of Eagan appealed a judge's order Friday that required the city to change its comprehensive guide plan, ultimately paving the way for a housing development on the 40-year-old Carriage Hills Golf Course.

"We think the guide plan is worth fighting for," according to a written statement from the Eagan City Council. "We take very seriously protecting the integrity of the city's comprehensive guide plan and all the years of careful thought, public participation and work that went into it."

In a ruling that both the Metropolitan Council and the League of Minnesota Cities say holds disconcerting implications for local government, District Judge Patrice Sutherland in April ordered the city to either amend its comprehensive plan and the property's zoning or begin eminent domain proceedings to buy the 120-acre course that has been shuttered for the season.

George Hoff, Eagan's attorney on the case, said the city is appealing, among other points, the judge's order to change the comprehensive plan and rezone the property. The city argues that the owners of the golf course, Rahn Family LP, never asked for the property to be rezoned.

"(The decision) was not unprecedented, but unusual," said Tom Weaver, regional administrator for the Met Council, the Twin Cities planning agency.

"It does raise some issues that we are taking a look at and monitoring closely." All metro area cities' comprehensive plans must be approved by the council.

The Eagan City Council long has hoped to block development at Carriage Hills, one of the last remaining private open spaces in the otherwise built-up suburb.

The city's comprehensive plan calls for the property to be zoned only for parks and recreation, but course owner Rahn and prominent Minnesota developer Wensmann Realty Inc. want the council to change the area's land-use designation to allow housing.

Wensmann plans to build 480 housing units -- condos, town homes and single-family houses -- while preserving 40 or more acres as parks and open space.

Wensmann and Rahn sued after the City Council unanimously refused to rezone the property and rejected a proposal last summer to develop the 18-hole course, located off Yankee Doodle Road on Wescott Woodlands Drive.

Christopher Penwell, attorney for Rahn and Wensmann Realty, did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

The City Council members debated appealing during closed-door sessions for weeks, and waited until the last allowable day to file before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Dan Bailey, a member of the Carriage Hills Coalition, a group of neighbors who have fought the course's development for years, said the city did the "right thing" Friday.

"It's nice, too, that Eagan didn't just roll over and let one judge's decision change how it does business,'' Bailey said.

In the original lawsuit, owner Ray Rahn said he was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and charged that the city's denial of development amounted to taking the course without paying for it.

The judge agreed, and the suit never made it to trial. Instead, in her 20-page decision and order for summary judgment, Sutherland said Eagan's denial was the equivalent of a "taking" that forced Rahn to either incur significant annual losses from the golf course's operations or abandon the property, allowing the city and its residents to benefit from the land without paying for it.

"The decision to change or not to change a guide plan is typically considered to be a legislative decision of a city council," said Tom Grundhoefer, general counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities.

"In that respect, it's pretty rare for a court to mandate that a legislative body undertake a specific action." "-- Depending on what happens at the Court of Appeals, it could impact other types of legislative actions of local governments."

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