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Township still mulling appeal

Two Grey Cloud Island Township board members are ready to throw in the towel and stop further appeals of a judge's decision to allow 300 acres from the township to be annexed to St. Paul Park.

Board Chair Tom Bell and Board Member Dick Adams do not want to protest the decision at an appellate court, but Board Member Paul Schoenecker isn't ready to give up.

A decision on whether to appeal was tabled until the Sept. 13 meeting.

An administrative law judge decided to allow the annexation last year, and a Washington County District Court judge upheld the decision, July 20.

If Schoenecker can persuade Adams and Bell to change their minds and appeal, it will be past the 30-day requirement. Schoenecker said he is aware the township might be charged $1,200 by St. Paul Park for costs because the township lost the case.

Township Attorney Dave Magnuson said an appeal could cost from $7,500 to $10,000.

The acreage, 600 acres owned by Gordon Nesvig, is south of the city along County Road 75.

About 300 acres east of the road has already been annexed by St. Paul Park for housing to be developed by D.R. Horton. The township also protested that annexation, but lost the court fight and an appeal.

"We have spent a fair amount of time in court," Bell said at the August board meeting. "We have a perfect record of losing. My opinion is that we've had it. We had a really strong argument and we lost. I can't see spending any more tax dollars."

At the heart of the township's opposition to annexation is the assertion that the land is part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Critical River Corridor, designated as "rural open space."

There is evidence the developer listened and responded to informal objections by the DNR.

During the planning process three years ago, Horton scaled back the original plan to develop on 103 acres. It agreed to install public trails and scrap a marina. In addition, open space was increased with Horton agreeing to remove invasive plants and trees and renovate a dry manure pit from a feedlot operation.

In order for an appeal to succeed -- and only 10 percent of appeals result in an overturned decision -- the court must find that lower judges have made a mistake, according to Magnuson.

Schoenecker wants to explore making a deal with St. Paul Park officials to keep some of the land in the township to get some tax benefit, an idea proposed early in the planning process.

At that time, Horton agreed to 30 days of negotiation that stretched out to 18 months. With no agreement in hand, the developer called off negotiations.

Township officials maintain city officials prematurely pulled the plug.

"I would like some more time," Schoenecker said last week. "I haven't lost hope that we can't have a conversation with St. Paul Park. I think the city could be sympathetic." Adams said he would go along with Schoenecker but would only be open to negotiations if the City Council put it in writing.

"If not, the motion stands," Adams said, "Our odds are very slim.

St. Paul Park Mayor John Hunziker said Friday that the city is "too far ahead" in the development process to go back to negotiations that ended two years ago.

"I give him credit for wanting to get something done, but I don't understand his reasoning," he said.

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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