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Judge denies appeal

The appeal by Grey Cloud Township to stop the annexation of 300 acres of land bordering on the Mississippi River was denied last week by Washington County District Judge J.E. Cass.

After a decision by Administrative Law Judge George Beck last October supporting Gordon Nesvig's petition to have St. Paul Park annex 300 acres of his land west of County Road 75, township officials appealed the order to district court.

Nesvig has a contract to sell his land to developer D.R. Horton for 106 acres of urban housing and a retail center in the area to be annexed.

The appeal, written by Township Attorney Dave Magnuson, argued that three parcels of land, including Nesvig's homestead, were included in the annexation order by Beck without testimony. Further, Magnuson said the judge should have considered that the area is within the Critical River Area and subject to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources oversight because it is designated as "rural open space."

Grey Cloud's plan called for one home per 10 acres, adding that only 75 acres are buildable.

Cass ruled that whether or not the DNR would approve is "speculative" and agreed with Beck that urban development and protection of the river "can occur together."

Further appeals are possible to an appellate court but Grey Cloud Town Board Chair Tom Bell said it would be "an exercise in futility." He said board members Dick Adams and Paul Schoenecker might disagree.

The township's next meeting is Aug. 8.

"It's still in the Critical Area no matter who has it," Bell said. "It's easy for the developer to do all the planning but it doesn't have to be that way."

Bell hopes city officials will change their minds and leave the land as open space.

Three hundred and forty acres are already within the city and plans have been approved to bring sewer and water from Broadway Avenue down Third Street to serve the annexed area.

Horton plans to develop the entire area, 640 acres, with 1,900 units of housing and a retail center.

Original plans for housing in the Critical Area were significantly changed to exclude a marina and reduce the density. Horton also agreed to restore the land, remove invasive species and add public trails and the DNR withdrew objections.

If there are no further appeals, the city can move ahead by sending a comprehensive land-use plan amendment to the Metropolitan Council for approval. It will then be subject to formal DNR review.

Cass, in his decision, said the administrative law judge had the power to decide whether Nesvig's property was about to become urban or suburban and to add additional property to the petition.

He said there is evidence to support Beck's conclusion that the land will benefit environmentally from Horton's plan to restore deteriorating areas. Also, there would be less runoff to the river as well as no damage to groundwater because of city sewer and water.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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