City plan to buy land fails in vote

Golf course site goes to developer

Eagan voters on Tuesday nixed a $10.25 million plan to buy a golf course and protect it from development.

With up to 480 housing units slated to be built on the site of Carriage Hills Golf Course, proponents of the failed ballot question are conducting their own election post-mortem — and holding their breath for the clamor of construction crews.

Given the slumping housing market, however, it’s unclear when Wensmann Realty would begin work.

Voters who would not be directly affected by the project seemed indifferent on the ballot measure. The proposal failed in all 21 Eagan precincts except the four closest to the course.

Spokesman for Eagan Legacy, a coalition of homeowners opposed to the development plan, said taxpayers may also have reacted negatively to vague ballot language. The measure said that a “yes” vote would raise their taxes without promising a particular use for the 120-acre site.

The language called for preserving the golf course “for public facilities, recreation and open space” but did not specify a project. The question failed to pass by 2,171 votes, according to unofficial figures from the city, for a “no” vote of 53 percent to 47 percent, with more than 35,500 votes cast.

Voters might have found the $10.25 million price tag daunting, but that alone didn’t necessarily kill the proposal. Precinct results showed that in the same election, Eagan residents embraced by wide margins a state constitutional amendment to raise money for the arts, clean water and outdoor initiatives by increasing the state sales tax. “If you looked at the ballot, nothing was promised that was concrete. That was kind of tough.”

City officials have said the ballot language was unspecific because a series of public forums this summer yielded no clear consensus among taxpayers as to how the land should be used. City Council candidates Bruce “Buzz” Anderson and Gary Hansen, who won a two-year seat on the council, had both suggested moving a fire station there and using the rest of the land for parks and trails.

A city mailer sent to all homeowners indicated that a “yes” vote would remove the land from the tax rolls, but if Wensmann Realty develops 480 units on the site, the property would generate about $432,000 in property taxes in 2009. It noted those gains would be partially offset by demands on city services.

Members of Eagan Legacy said the mailer underestimated the impact on public services such as police, fire, schools and roads. They estimated the large housing development would drain $470,000 a year from city coffers.

The ballot question emerged from the city’s settlement agreement with Wensmann Realty, which had sued Eagan for the right to build on the land. The four-year legal dispute with Wensmann and the course owners, the Rahn Family Limited Partnership, was scheduled to go to trial in June.

Given the downturn in the housing market and the national economy, some question how quickly Wensmann would begin moving earth on the 40-year-old golf course, which closed in 2005. A reporter’s attempts to reach Terry Wensmann and the Rahn family were unsuccessful.

Before proceeding with construction, Wensmann Realty would have to submit to the city plans for subdivision and grading, among other documentation, but those plans would not need City Council approval.

Public to Decide Future of Carriage Hills Land

Should the City of Eagan acquire120 acres of land formerly known as the Carriage Hills Golf Course?That’s the question voters will be asked to decide in a referendum on theNovember 4, 2008 ballot.

After four years of litigation regarding
CarriageHillsMapthe future of the property, the ballot question lets voters choose whether the City should acquire the land for a
cost of $10.25 million or whether the
owner should be allowed to proceed
with a mixed residential development
on 90 acres of the site, but preserving
30 acres throughout the site as
undeveloped space. The question
appears on the ballot as a direct result
of the settlement of a lawsuit between
the owner and the City. The settlement
set the price at which the owner is willing to sell the land, and also created the opportunity for voters to choose whether the City should bond to buy the land or whether the tract is allowed to develop as housing.

How will the land be used if the City acquires the parcel? What are the developers plans if the land is privately developed? What’s the impact on voters either way? These are just some of the questions addressed in the following fact sheet prepared to offer voters information which may be useful to them in making their decision.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

1. What is the Carriage Hills property and where is it located?

Answer: Carriage Hills is the name of a 120 acre tract of land east of Lexington Avenue near Yankee Doodle Road and Westcott Woodlands. It was used as a privately run golf course from 1965 until it closed in 2004.

2. What is the exact ballot question?

Answer: “Shall the City of Eagan be authorized to issue and sell its general obligation bonds in a principal amount not to exceed $10,250,000 for the purpose of acquiring approximately 120 acres of land formerly known as the Carriage Hills Golf Course for public facilities, recreation, and open space uses?”

3. What does a “yes” vote on the ballot question mean?

Answer: A “yes” vote means you approve issuing up to $10.25 million of bonds by the City of Eagan to pay for the acquisition of the 120 acres of land. It means taxes on your property would increase for the next 20 years to pay off the cost of the general obligation bonds used to finance the land purchase. It also means the land cannot be used for private residential development. The City would acquire the property and hold the land for use at such time as there are identified purposes or community needs. The City must use the land in only three ways—for public facilities, for open space, and for recreational purposes. While the current City Council cannot bind the actions of a future City Council, it has adopted a Visioning Statement that is intended to inform the public about foreseeable uses under those three property categories and how it envisions a community conversation and how a decision on future uses should be made.

4. If the bond referendum passes, what will that do to my taxes?

Answer: Property taxes would go up. A preliminary estimate, not taking into account changes in interest rates or the timing of the bond sale, indicates that for a home with a market value of $150,000 the annual increase would be approximately $13. For a home with a market value of $200,000 the annual increase would be approximately $19. For a home with a market value of $300,000, the annual increase would be approximately $30. For a home with a market value of $500,000 the annual increase would be approximately $51. The bond would be paid back over the next 20 years.

5. What does a “no” vote mean?

Answer: A “no’ vote means the current landowner will be allowed, under a Planned Development, to build up to 480 units of mixed-use housing (including single family homes, townhomes, and apartments) on 90 acres of the site, but must leave a total of 30 acres spread throughout the site that will be undeveloped but privately owned space. The timing of any construction decision would be up to the owner. While the owner is free to sell the property to a third party, any new owner would be bound by the same approvals and restrictions that currently apply in the Planned Development.

6. Is there a difference to my taxes if the land develops vs. if it doesn’t?

Answer: Assuming the property was already developed with the full 480 units and with the mix and per unit values projected by the developer, the property would generate approximately $432,000 annually in Eagan property taxes (estimated revenue calculated at 2009 rates and home values.) While additional homes mean additional revenues, there could be additional City expense to extend City services (police, fire, etc.) into a new neighborhood. The extent of any service level demand or expense is unknown and unquantifiable at this time. If the referendum passes, on the other hand, the City will pay approximately $852,000 per year for 20 years to acquire the property. City-owned land is typically removed from the tax rolls and does not generate property tax income.

7. What happens if I don’t vote either “yes” or “no” on the ballot question?

Answer: Unlike a state constitutional amendment question, a non-vote on this Eagan ballot question has no effect on the outcome, other than to reduce the number of voters on the question. A non-vote is not counted for or against the question. The question is decided by a majority of those who do vote either “yes” or “no.”

8. Why isn’t there one specific land use or public purpose for the property identified in the ballot question?

Answer: The question comes before the voters as a result of contingent settlement of a four year lawsuit against the City. Following that settlement, two public open houses were held prior to the adoption of the ballot question. Approximately 80 residents offered numerous ideas of how the land could or should be used. The complete list will be posted here soon, however, the Council selected the following land uses for the ballot question: public facilities, recreation, and open space uses.

9. What’s allowed under those three uses: public facilities, recreation, and open space?

Answer: Check this Web site for a Carriage Hills Visioning Statement to be adopted by the City Council in October. It will be posted as soon as it is available.

10. Should the referendum pass, what would happen next?

Answer: The City would then purchase the land in January of 2009, per the settlement agreement, for the agreed upon purchase price. The land would then be held for use to meet future public needs or desires. There is no immediate proposal for what to do with the land. A public process to evaluate needs, costs, and benefits, for future public facilities, open space and recreational opportunities is anticipated to occur prior to land use decisions by the City Council.

11. Does the $10.25 million include operational or development dollars to accomplish any of the three types of land use?

Answer: The bond amount is only sufficient to acquire the property and pay for the cost of issuing the bonds. There is no additional money set aside for any public improvements or development.

 

12. Has the City Council taken a position on the referendum either for or against?

Answer: No, while individual Council Members may have an opinion, the Council as a whole does not and cannot have a position for or against the ballot question.

Housing approved on Carriage Hills

openspacenew3Despite the fact that they don’t want to see it developed, Eagan City Council members at their June 3 meeting unanimously approved housing on Carriage Hills golf course.

“If there has to be development on this site, this is the plan I would like to see go forward,” Mayor Mike Maguire said.

But members are still hopeful that, with a bond referendum on the ballot in November, the 120-acre property won’t have to be developed.

The council’s approval of the project, which includes 480 units of mixed-use housing and 30 acres of open space, was part of a settlement agreement reached in March between the city and Wensmann Homes.

Wensmann and Carriage Hills owner Ray Rahn sued the city after it denied a land-use change in 2004 to allow housing on the property, which Rahn has said is no longer viable as a golf course.

The property, located at 3535 Wescott Woodlands, was guided parks, open space and recreation. The city has fought a three-year legal battle with Wensmann and Rahn to maintain that land-use designation, with each side winning some fights along the way.

The settlement came out of a court-ordered mediation prior to trial, which was scheduled to begin this month.

The terms of the settlement required the council to approve the land-use change and Wensmann’s proposal. In exchange, voters will get to decide in November if the city should purchase the land for $10.25 million and preserve it as open space.

If the bond referendum fails, the development will proceed.

Some neighbors and open-space advocates were upset that the city did not continue fighting the lawsuit, but Maguire said that would have only cost taxpayers more money.

In addition, the settlement gives the council some control over what type of development goes on that site, should it be developed.

For instance, Wensmann’s plan had about 60 conditions attached to it – an unusually high number – by the time it reached the council, and the council added four more in response to resident concerns.

Another benefit of the settlement is that it ultimately puts the decision in the hands of residents, Council Member Peggy Carlson said.

The city will now begin working on a ballot question for November’s referendum, as well as a plan for the land should residents vote to preserve it.

City will send Carriage Hills fact sheet to residents

If voters approve the November bond referendum and the city purchases the former Carriage Hills golf course, the average homeowner in Eagan will likely see their property taxes rise between $19 and $30 per year for the next 20 years.

That is just one of the answers to frequently asked questions the city hopes to address in a fact sheet on the Carriage Hills bond referendum it will send to residents in October.

Voters are being asked to decide whether the city should purchase the 120-acre property – formerly a private golf course – for $10.25 million.

If voters approve the referendum, the city will hold the land for future use, and that use must fall within three specific categories: public facilities, recreation and open space.

If voters defeat the referendum, the land will be developed by Wensmann Homes into 480 units of mixed-use housing and 30 acres of open space.

The fact sheet will be included in the next issue of the city’s newsletter, Experience Eagan, which will be sent to every known household address.

It will also be available on the city’s Web site, www.cityofeagan.com

The fact sheet will include information about the ballot question, taxes, land use and more.

For instance, if the bond is approved, it would be paid back over the next 20 years. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would see an estimated increase of $19 per year over that period, while the owner of a home valued at $500,000 would see an increase of about $51 per year.

Voting “no” means you are voting for the land to be developed into housing, while voting “yes” means you would like to see the city purchase the land for a future use and prevent it from becoming housing.

A non-vote has no effect on the outcome of the question.

If the land were to develop as housing, it would generate approximately $432,000 in property taxes each year if calculated at 2009 rates.

While that would mean additional revenue for the city, it could also mean additional expenses to extend city services to a new neighborhood, according to the fact sheet.

If the city acquires the land, it would likely be removed from the tax rolls and would not generate property tax income.

In addition to the fact sheet, the Eagan City Council will adopt a visioning statement to inform the public about allowable uses for the property under the three specific categories.

It will also lay out how the council envisions a community conversation and how it thinks decisions on future uses should be made.

That statement will be posted on the city’s Web site as soon as it is available.

The November bond referendum is part of a settlement agreement reached by the city and Wensmann Homes after a three-year legal battle.

Possible uses for Carriage Hills remain broad – for now

When Eagan voters go to the polls in November, they will decide whether the land that holds the defunct Carriage Hills golf course is developed as housing or is acquired by the city.

What exactly the city would do with the land, if acquired, remains to be seen.

Rather than name a specific alternative use for the property on the ballot, the Eagan City Council has chosen to list three categories of potential uses: public facility, recreation and open space.

Voters will decide this fall whether the city should purchase the 120-acre property for $10.25 million or whether the land should be developed into mixed-use housing.

The city held two July meetings to gather public input on possible uses for the land, should voters approve the referendum.

Suggestions came from about 70 residents, many of whom wanted to see the property remain some type of park land. Other ideas included a hospital, a cemetery, a nature preserve, a performing arts center and a man-made lake with a sandy beach and a nine-hole golf course.

The lack of consensus prompted council members to avoid painting themselves into a corner with a specific use listed on the ballot.

Council members also wanted to avoid being too broad about potential land uses, which could leave it open to interpretation by future councils and possibly result in unwanted uses, such as housing.

Council Member Paul Bakken said he sees the property as a good opportunity to meet the future needs of a growing and changing community.

The categories of public facility, recreation and open space show a clear intention, but also have a range of optional uses within them.

Mayor Mike Maguire said he’s fine with being ambiguous on the ballot, but he wants the public to be “as clear as possible” about the menu of potential choices under each of the three categories.

The city will prepare informational materials outlining those choices to send out to the public.

Bakken said he also wanted to make it clear the public would be included in any future decision on what to do with the land should the city acquire it.

“We owe the community the commitment to have that ongoing conversation,” he said. “These decisions will not be made without the opportunity for public input and participation.”

By law, the council must officially adopt the referendum question at its Sept. 2 meeting.

The referendum is part of a settlement agreement reached by the city and Wensmann Homes in March after a three-year legal battle.

Wensmann and Carriage Hills owner Ray Rahn sued the city after it denied a land-use change in 2004 to allow housing on the property, which Rahn has said is no longer viable as a golf course.

The property, located at 3535 Wescott Woodlands, was guided parks, open space and recreation.

As part of the settlements agreement, the City Council approved a land-use change to allow 480 units of mixed-use housing and 30 acres of open space.

Approving the project allowed a referendum to be placed on the ballot, letting voters ultimately decide the fate of the land.

If the bond referendum fails, Wensmann will proceed with the housing development.

Planning Commission recommends housing on Carriage Hills

carraigehills100The Eagan Planning Commission recommended approval of housing on Carriage Hills golf course Tuesday night, reversing its previous position in the face of a lawsuit settlement.

The proposal will now go before the City Council for a final vote on June 3.

The proposal was submitted as part of a settlement agreement between the city and Wensmann Homes, reached in March, that could ultimately put the fate of the former golf course into the hands of voters.

Wensmann and Carriage Hills owner Ray Rahn sued the city after it denied a land-use change in 2004 to allow housing on the property, which Rahn has said is no longer viable as a golf course.

The property, located at 3535 Wescott Woodlands, is currently guided parks, open space and recreation.

Wensmann is looking to build 480 units of mixed-use housing on the 120-acre property. The developer’s most recent proposal also includes 30 acres of open space.

If the council approves the plan, the settlement will allow voters to decide through a referendum in November whether the city should buy the property for $10.25 million and preserve it as open space.

If the council denies the plan, the settlement will be considered void and the lawsuit will go back to court.

The settlement came out of a court-ordered mediation prior to trial, which was scheduled to begin in June.

The city and Wensmann have been in a four-year legal fight over the property, with both sides winning some battles along the way.

A district court initially ruled in favor of Wensmann and Rahn, but an appeals court reversed that decision.

The state Supreme Court then agreed that the city had a rational basis for refusing to amend its comprehensive guide plan, but it sent the case back to District Court – which originally ruled against the city – to determine whether that denial constitutes a regulatory taking of Rahn’s property.

Voters will have final word on Carriage Hills Golf Course

In a vote that will likely mean the end of a lengthy court battle between the city of Eagan and a developer, Eagan residents in November will decide whether to pay $10.25 million to buy the former Carriage Hills Golf Course.

The golf course has been the subject of a contentious court case filed in 2004 by developer Wensmann Realty, which wants to build houses on the land, against the city, which has fought to preserve the course as green space.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Eagan City Council approved a contingent settlement that will allow voters to choose between buying the land to preserve it and letting the land be developed.

“It puts the final decision in the hands of the voters,” Council Member Paul Bakken said Wednesday. “I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

Eagan has matured from a growing community to one that has largely filled out and has fewer options in terms of preserving open spaces. That transition, he said, is why the Carriage Hills case came to the forefront so quickly.

“We’re a community that cares about natural resources,”

Development specifics

If Eagan residents vote to maintain the land as open space, the city will pay $10 million for the 120-acre site, plus about $250,000 in bond fees and other expenses. But even before the November election, the city will start the review process and hold public hearings in May and June on a Wensmann proposal for homes that could be built if voters nix the offer.

 

• A mix of 450 to 480 single-family homes, row houses and senior housing on 90 acres of the golf course.

• 30 acres of green space throughout the development, with buffers between nearby neighborhoods.

• An east-west street connection between Wescott Woodlands and Duckwood Drive, rather than a north-south connection to the Greensboro or Wescott Hills neighborhoods.

Maguire said that in order to stick to the terms of the agreement, the city needs to approve the development plan, contingent on the referendum failing, by June 20.

Terry Wensmann, the developer, and his attorney did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

The city still has the right to approve or deny Wensmann’s proposal, but if voters approve the referendum, development plans would not proceed. If the referendum fails and the city blocks development, the case probably will go back to court.

The case, which went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, had been sent back to district court last year. It was scheduled for trial in June before the city, golf course owner Ray Rahn and Wensmann hashed out the agreement in 11 hours of court-ordered mediation on Friday.

Baffled by the valuation

Dan Bailey, a neighbor of the golf course who has long opposed its development, wonders how the land came to be valued at $10 million. He thinks the price will prevent Eagan voters from protecting the site, which is no longer an operating golf course.

Bailey thinks he’ll probably vote against the referendum, so community members can once again persuade the City Council to turn down the development and go back to court.

“The deal is great in the sense that the people get to make the choice,” Bailey said, “but it’s bad in that both choices are bad for the people.”

Bakken was careful not to say whether he’ll support the referendum.

Voters to Decide Future of Carriage Hills

Settlement Agreement Sets Out Two Alternatives

Responding to Court-ordered mediation, the City of Eagan has reached a contingent settlement in a four-year legal dispute over the former Carriage Hills golf course that will allow voters to decide in November whether the 120-acre site should remain as open space or be developed.

The settlement, reached after nearly 11 hours of negotiation last Friday, March 14, and approved by the full City Council Tuesday night, March 18, establishes for the first time a fixed price if taxpayers were to acquire the land via referendum. It also sets out a process for voters to know exactly how much and what types of housing would be developed if the referendum fails. For the settlement terms to take effect, action was required within three business days of last Friday’s tentative agreement.

“This saga has been like an epic 900-page novel,” said Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire. “Where Carriage Hills is concerned, it has always seemed this legal battle is not over until it’s over, but this settlement allows the voters of Eagan to write the final chapter.”

Under the terms of the contingent settlement, the process continues on a dual track.
Voters will be asked if they want to approve a referendum to purchase the land. Financing the land purchase will cost approximately $10.25 million in bonds for the land and cost of issuance. This dollar amount does not include any improvements to the property, if desired. On the second track, well prior to citizens voting, the City Planning Commission and the City Council will hold public hearings in May and June respectively to review Wensmann’s exact development plans for the land.

The developer has until April 16 to formally submit a development application, but the contingent settlement, in general, includes the following:
• 30 acres of open space retained throughout the development with various buffers established between nearby neighborhoods;
• If developed there would be no north/south street connections to either the Greensboro or Wescott Hills neighborhoods, but rather an east/west connection between Wescott Woodlands and Duckwood Drive;
• There would be a mixture of housing types from single family homes to row homes and senior housing on the remaining 90 acres;
• Between 450 and 480 units in all are proposed.

Under the settlement the City has a right to approve or deny the development, just as it normally would, except that allowing the development to proceed would be contingent on the voters turning down the referendum. If voters approve the referendum any land use approvals the developer receives would be null and void. If, however, the City Council denies the development application for a Special Area Plan and land use change, then the settlement agreement is voided and the case will again be scheduled for trial.

A lawsuit first filed in 2004 by Wensmann Realty, which wants to develop the land, has previously gone all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and was set for trial in Dakota County District Court on June 11th of this year. Back in April of 2005, Judge Patrice Sutherland ruled summarily against City efforts to stop development at Carriage Hills, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed that ruling in May of 2006.

The Supreme Court later agreed the City had a right to designate the land for parks, open space and recreation, but sent the case back to Judge Sutherland to decide this summer whether owner Ray Rahn still has “any reasonable use” of his land or whether the City must purchase his property if it wishes to keep the open space land use requirement. That trial date will now be postponed, but a trial remains an option if the City does not approve the development applications.

The contingent settlement avoids substantial future attorneys fees (both sides) and saddling the City with an unknown purchase price should the trial court have ruled against Eagan and issued a judgment. City officials made clear they will neither push for or against the referendum.
A referendum question must be framed by early September to be on the November ballot.

“We feel good that we have found a way to have the voter’s voices be heard on this important issue: at the ballot box, and in public hearings,” said Mayor Maguire. “That’s about as democratic as it gets.”

Eagan voters to decide whether to buy Carriage Hills Golf Course

Eagan voters to decide whether to buy Carriage Hills Golf Course

Eagan voters will decide whether to buy the former Carriage Hills Golf Course or let a developer build houses on it as part of a lawsuit settlement approved by the City Council Tuesday night.

Eagan voters will decide whether to pay $10.25 million to buy the former Carriage Hills Golf Course at a referendum in November.

The golf course has been the subject of a lengthy court case filed in 2004 by developer Wensmann Realty, which wants to build houses on the land, against the city, which has fought to preserve the course as green space.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Eagan City Council approved a contingent settlement that will allow voters to choose between buying the land to preserve it and letting the land be developed.

If Eagan residents vote to maintain the land as open space, the city will pay $10 million for the 120-acre site, plus about $250,000 in bond fees and other expenses. But even before the November election, the city will start the review process and hold public hearings this summer on a Wensmann proposal for homes that could be built if voters nix the offer.

Wensmann has until April 16 to submit a formal development application, but the settlement outlines:

• A mix of 450 to 480 single-family homes, row houses and senior housing on 90 acres of the golf course.

• 30 acres of green space throughout the development, with buffers between nearby neighborhoods.

• An east-west street connection between Wescott Woodlands and Duckwood Drive, rather than a north-south connection to the Greensboro or Wescott Hills neighborhoods.

The city still has the right to approve or deny Wensmann’s proposal, but if voters approve the referendum, development plans would not proceed. If the referendum fails and the city blocks development, the case probably will go back to court.

The case, which went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, had been sent back to district court last year and was scheduled for trial in June before the parties hashed out the agreement last week.