Family gets hearing: Hearing is set for the area family that is fighting Dakota County over its land
The Hastings-area landowners who are fighting Dakota County over their land near Spring Lake Park earned a small victory last week.
In court here, the family was granted a right to an evidentiary hearing, set for March 11.
That gives the family some time to further prepare its argument, get additional documents from the county and ask county staff a number of questions under oath.
In addition, the judge in the case will inspect the property himself, along with the lawyers in the case.
The family of the late Richard Mauch is fighting the county in the case. The county wants to take almost 11 acres of their land along the shores of Spring Lake in Hastings. Negotiations began between the two parties when the county sought to purchase land from the family for the Mississippi River Regional Trail, which would run from Hastings to South St. Paul.
The family eventually conceded, agreeing to sell nearly two acres of their land so the trail could come through.
On Nov. 5, though, the county board voted to take the entire property.
They are also taking about 127 acres in all from three landowners, including the Sorg family that lives along County Road 47 and a Burnsville man, Louis Gramsey.
The Mauch family hired an attorney, Beverly Aho, who represented them at the hearing last week.
There are three ways homeowners like the Drews can fight the taking of their land. The county must prove that there is a public use for the land, that there is a necessity for taking the land and that the homeowners are being compensated fairly.
On the public use standard, that would appear to be met because the county plans a public park on the space.
It’s on the necessity portion, though, that Aho and the family are digging in their heels.
“The question here is necessity,” Aho said. “Our argument is going to be, they don’t have a need for the entire parcel. My clients are willing to sell the 1.8 acres for the trail.”
Aho said that just because the county has plans down the road to develop the land at stake here into a park, they can’t do a land-grab now.
“Governments cannot stockpile property,” she said. “They can’t buy it for the purpose of stockpiling it. That’s what our argument is. Even though they have a dream for that park someday, we can argue that’s speculation. That’s stockpiling. They don’t have the money now for all of that.
“The funding, as we understand it, is only there for the trail. That can be built without taking the entire 10.4 acres. That would be a win-win. Everybody gets what they want by doing that.”
Governments can, of course, purchase land from willing sellers and that’s what the county has done with much of the land for Spring Lake Park.
This case, Aho said, does not include a willing seller.
“My clients have every desire to keep it,” she said. “We’re hopeful the commissioners will change their mind, or that the court will side with us.”
Aho has worked with the Mauch family, including Mauch’s daughter Nancy Drews. She met with county staff and the Drews on Oct. 29, she said, when she was shown a survey from the county that laid out the 1.8 acres that the county wanted to buy.
The two parties still had to negotiate a price, but they left the meeting, Aho said, with an understanding.
“My clients were willing to sell it,” she said.
Aho and Nancy Drews went to the county board meeting on Nov. 5, expecting a resolution centering around that 1.8 acres to be agreed upon by the board.
Aho got suspicious, however, when she pulled up the board’s agenda in advance of the meeting and didn’t see anything regarding the Mauch property on the agenda. The Sorg and Gramsey properties were there, but the Mauch family land wasn’t.
The board then went into a closed session and emerged with a new resolution to take the entire piece of land owned by the family.
Aho sprang into action, taking the podium to address the commissioners.
“I begged them to table it for even one week so that we could discuss it,” she said.
That didn’t happen, though, as the commissioners voted 6-1 to take the land. Commissioner Mike Slavik, who represents the Hastings area on the board, voted against it.
“My client was blindsided,” Aho said.