Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Council Delays Vote on Carriage Hills

Residents Upset with Plan to Settle Lawsuit

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

by Meggen Lindsay

Resident outrage appears to have delayed the Eagan City Council's vote to settle its lawsuit over the development of Carriage Hills Golf Course, a legal battle that had attracted statewide and national interest because of its implications for land-use planning.

Golf course neighbors and fellow open-space advocates spent Monday and Tuesday morning preparing to storm the council meeting Tuesday night after hearing the city was close to dropping its legal appeal in the lawsuit. They have been lobbying city officials for more than a year to block a plan to turn the serene golf course into hundreds of homes and condos.

By midday, however, residents had called off the dogs and city officials had posted an online announcement from Mayor Pat Geagan letting the public know that the vote was off.

"I believe it's because of the huge amount of political uproar," said resident Jim Taylor, a representative of the Carriage Hills Coalition who met with Geagan and city administrator Tom Hedges on Monday morning.

"Our group is very active - it's almost like a prayer chain," he continued. "Neighbor ladies meet monthly for morning coffee, and it just so happened that their group started minutes after we left that meeting.

"News of the settlement spread like wildfire. I'd guess 500 or 600 people knew within hours and 3,000 people knew by the end of the night."

But Geagan said he postponed the settlement vote because he and city officials learned Monday the neighborhood group had hired a private consultant to review the feasibility of residents and other investors buying the 18-hole course outright.

"The council was ready to deal with this," Geagan said. "But the group brought up the purchase plans, and I thought it only fair to at least hear them out and give them some time to figure out where they are at."

Eagan officials have said the city could not afford to buy the course - which was closed last summer - and it is unclear how much the neighborhood investors could offer for the property.

Developer Terry Wensmann, of Eagan-based Wensmann Realty Inc., did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

In August 2004, the City Council denied Wensmann's plan to rezone the 40-year-old golf course. The city long has balked at the development of 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.

Course owner Rahn Family LP and Wensmann sued the council to change the area's land-use designation to allow housing. Wensmann's plan has been to build 480 housing units - condos, town homes and single-family houses - while preserving 40 or more acres as parks and open space at the property, located off Yankee Doodle Road on Wescott Woodlands Drive.

In April, Dakota County District Judge Patrice Sutherland ordered the city to either amend its comprehensive plan and the property's zoning or begin eminent domain proceedings to buy the now-closed 120-acre course.

The council appealed her decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Metropolitan Council and the League of Minnesota Cities have backed the city's appeal, as has a national public-interest law firm.

The council and the groups supporting Eagan officials appealed because they said they wanted to protect the "integrity" of the city's comprehensive plan - and the rights of local leaders to guide their own planning.

Carriage Hills residents thought the city had been preparing for oral arguments, not readying a settlement agreement. But City Council members have met privately in executive session to discuss a settlement agreement - which neighbors believe includes a scaled-back golf course and housing development.

"We were quite taken aback by the timing of the settlement discussions," said resident Sharon Ysebaert. "We thought they were moving forward with the appeal and voiced our displeasure with the direction the council seems to now be going."

City officials have not yet publicly explained why they would now settle the lawsuit or what the negotiations might include. However, any settlement likely preserves the city's control over its comprehensive plan.

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