Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Golf Course Housing Ruling is Overturned

High Court: City Plan Trumps Zoning Designation

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Thursday, January 12, 2006

by Nhia Tongchai Lee

The Mendota Heights Par 3 Golf Course won't be sprouting houses anytime soon.

In a 4-3 ruling Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that allowed the course's owners to sell the property so it can be developed into single-family homes. The high court ruling means Mendota Height's comprehensive plan listing the property as "golf course" trumped a zoning designation for the site as residential.

"We're certainly pleased with the results," Mendota Heights Mayor John Huber said. "They wanted to force us to change our comprehensive plans, and we declined."

The city's comprehensive plan, adopted in 1979, reaffirmed in 2002 and detailing land use, states that the 17.5-acre site is designated as a "golf course." But under the city's zoning ordinance, the land is labeled as low-density residential, meaning a development of single-family homes is a possibility.

In an e-mail response to the Pioneer Press, Alan Spaulding, golf course co-owner, said that they had full legal rights to develop the property as stated in the city's current zoning ordinance when he and a partner bought it in 1995.

"Although the lower court rulings were reversed, the City of Mendota Heights is now required to resolve the conflict between the zoning of our property and its guidance under the Comprehensive Plan," Spaulding wrote. "We are hopeful this conflict is resolved in a manner which allows our group to complete the pending sale of the property."

He added that a resolution of the conflict would determine the course's future. Spaulding did not, however, indicate what the new owner would do with the land. He also wouldn't name the potential buyer.

The golf course is still on par to open for the 2006 season.

According to court documents, the owners wanted to pursue alternative uses for the property because the golf course failed to generate profitable returns.

Spaulding would not comment on whether the course was operating on a budget deficit or not.

In 2004, the district court first ordered the city to amend its comprehensive plan to allow low-density residential housing at the property.

The city's lawyer disputed the ruling, citing that the adoption of the Minnesota Land Use Planning Act of 1995 gave overriding power to the city's comprehensive plan when it conflicted with zoning ordinance.

The city's comprehensive plan provides for preservation of the majority of the natural environment of properties. It wants to resist the deterioration of the environment as well as maintain existing residential areas.

After being upheld in the appellate court, the ruling was appealed by the city to the state Supreme Court.

Huber said the City Council will meet soon to discuss the changes that need to be made with the comprehensive plans and zoning ordinance so they won't conflict.

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