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County, landowners reach agreement over land at Spring Lake Park

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In a closed meeting Tuesday, March 18, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners reached an agreement in the condemnation case with the Drews/Mauch families on the terms informally agreed to by County and Drews/Mauch families’ representatives late last week. The settlement will be formally approved at the next regularly scheduled County Board meeting, which is March 25. The land joins more than 5,000 acres of park land that the county has purchased from willing sellers throughout the Dakota County park system.

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“It is always our preference to negotiate with property owners to reach a purchase agreement. Working with willing sellers is our preferred approach for parks, road construction and any other land we need for public purposes. It is the way we like to do business. Always have, always will,” Dakota County Board Chair Liz Workman said. “With this property purchase, we are excited to move forward with our longstanding plans for expanding Spring Lake Park Reserve and the Mississippi River Regional Trail.”

The board decision was unanimous, with all commissioners expressing their gratification at the settlement of the condemnation case. The land in question lies inside the boundaries of Spring Lake Park Reserve, a park which has been in the Dakota County Regional Park System for more than 40 years.

The county’s plans for the newly acquired acreage include the construction of a four-mile segment of paved trail that will connect to the existing Mississippi River Regional Trail. When complete in 2015, the trail will stretch 27 miles from St. Paul to Hastings and will eventually be part of the 3,000-mile national Mississippi River Trail that connects Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement agreement with the Drews/Mauch families consists of three parts.

Part one includes immediate fee acquisition by the County of 1.8 acres to enable construction of the Mississippi River Regional Trail. The County will pay $86,000 for this land.

Part two includes immediate acquisition by the County of a conservation easement over the remaining land, approximately 6.6 acres, excluding the 2-acre home site. The County will pay $250,000 for this easement. Dakota County and the families will work together to develop a natural resource management plan for this acreage, including remediation of the environmental contamination on these parcels. The County will be financially responsible to pay for the environmental cleanup. The County may acquire fee title to the 6.6 acres no earlier than 2034, for 20 percent of the appraised value of the land, based upon an appraisal at the time of acquisition.

Part three includes the families granting to the county a right of first refusal and option to purchase the 2-acre home site. The option may be exercised no earlier than the year 2054. The county will pay the appraised value of the home site, based upon an appraisal at the time of acquisition.

These general settlement terms were reached by the parties through good faith negotiations last week.

Later Wednesday, the attorney for the Drews/Mauch family released a statement.

It reads:

“'Ownership of private property is fundamental in our society. No duty of the courts in Minnesota is more essential than the enforcement of the constitutional and statutory protections of private property,' said Beverly J. Aho, attorney for the Drews-Sargent-Mauch family. 'Although governments have the authority to use their power of eminent domain to take private land for public purpose when it is necessary and with just compensation, no government should exercise this power imprudently. My clients commend the Dakota County Commissioners for reconsidering their initial decision to take all the land that has been held by my client’s family for more than 50 years, and to instead agree to the 1.8 acres required for the Mississippi River Regional Trail.'

"Although the family would have preferred to maintain ownership of their entire 10.41 acre parcel, they had offered to sell 1.8 acres to Dakota County for the purpose of the Mississippi River Regional Trail (MRRT) through the Spring Lake Park Reserve. The Dakota County Commissioners unanimously approved a compromised settlement which both sides worked to achieve, in closed session on March 18, which will be voted on publicly on March 25.

"As explained in the Dakota County Release, in addition to paying a substantial portion of the family’s legal fees and other amounts as described, Dakota County will be responsible for any environmental remediation involving the property and will acquire a conservation easement over 6.6 acres. The family will work with Dakota County to keep this property and resource pristine. The family will maintain use of 8.6 acres, including the home, boat ramps and marina, for their private purposes as had always been their desire, and will have an easement for septic/well purposes over the 8.6 acres. The county will provide a private gate and necessary screening for their privacy. Should the family ever decide to sell the property, they have granted Dakota County the right of first refusal, and Dakota County will not use its power of eminent domain over the property again. Instead, Dakota County may acquire fee title to the 6.6 acres no sooner than 20 years, but in any event will not develop it sooner than 2054. In addition, Dakota County may acquire fee title to the 2 acre homestead with its boat ramp and slip but not sooner than 2054, with provisions for the family to lease it back for up to ten years, if desired. At the time of these future acquisitions, should they occur, both sides will obtain appraisals and if a purchase price cannot be agreed upon, it will go to arbitration.

“'My clients truly love their land, and this is their piece of paradise in Minnesota,' said Beverly Aho. 'Their desire was to be able to enjoy this property with their children and grandchildren, and now they can without threat of it being taken away next week or next year. In addition, they appreciate the County’s help to remediate environmental concerns. They are good stewards of the land, and join the County in wanting to preserve this beautiful area for generations to come.'"

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