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City agrees to settle with four on traffic circles

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Cottage Grove, 55016
SWC Bulletin
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Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

The city of Cottage Grove will get thousands of dollars less than planned from businesses that objected to their assessments for the Jamaica Avenue roundabout project.

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The Cottage Grove City Council members last Wednesday OK'd a settlement with four of the seven businesses that filed formal objections over the special assessments levied last year for the project.

The council unanimously adopted resolutions that authorized settlements with Goodhue Adams, Cottage Grove Marketplace, Bailey Nurseries and WAG Farms, all properties last fall deemed to benefit from the $4.2 million traffic circles constructed near the Highway 61/Jamaica Avenue interchange.

In total, seven properties filed formal objections with the city over the levied assessments; Super Value, Mars II and 3M remain. A court-mandated mediation remains with one of the objecting parties.

The settlements will likely save the city a substantial amount of money, Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said last week.

"In some cases it'll cost you three times the amount to litigate it," he said, "and that's certainly not a good use of money."

In October 2007, council members adopted assessments of $1.93 million on 295 parcels toward the roundabout project. The settlement agreements approved last week cut assessments owed by Goodhue Adams to $1,500 minus a $671.36 credit, down from $4,439 initially; Cottage Grove Marketplace to $2,500 less a $760.90 credit, down from an initial assessment of $5,031; Bailey Nurseries to $10,460.50, just less than half the initial $20,921 assessment; and WAG Farms to $130,750, down from $173,600.

The city also agreed to acquire up to a 3.5-acre parcel from WAG Farms within the Cottage Grove Industrial Park by Dec. 24, 2009 at a price of $1.75 per square-foot.

The contested assessments weren't caused by Cottage Grove's special assessment policy, Schroeder said, pointing out it has been successfully applied on two road improvement projects since the completion of the Jamaica roundabouts. Rather, it was the execution of the assessment policy, he says, that led to problems.

City officials last summer provided initial assessment estimates to impacted property owners and then, after an independent appraisal report was completed, delivered updated figures after the project had already been approved.

It was a move that drastically altered the assessments some properties would pay, significantly increasing the bill to some and decreasing it for others, and it upset many property owners and some city council members alike.

Schroeder said the city followed its policy "to the letter."

"At the time it seemed like a very reasonable approach," he said. "Decide if you want to do the project, yes or no, before you spend the money supporting or not supporting an assessment appraisal.

"And now, looking back, gosh I wish we'd done it differently."

Jon Avise can be reached at javise@swcbulletin.com.

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