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Appeals court says AUAR was enough

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled last week that St. Paul Park adequately addressed the impact of the proposed River's Edge development for urban housing.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy in St. Paul challenged the city's use of an Alternative Urban Area Review, saying it analyzed only the development's affect on more than 600 acres of land annexed to the city from Grey Cloud Island Township.

The center maintained the city should have studied the effects of development on the Mississippi River corridor under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

The center argued its case unsuccessfully in Washington County District Court in 2004 and took the case to the appeals court, which ruled 2-1 that the AUAR is a legitimate process on a par with an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Impact Worksheet.

It is not known if the center will ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case. The court can chose whether it would hear the case.

The city, with Attorney George Hoff arguing the case, maintained the city solicited comments from surrounding communities and five state agencies with jurisdiction over the Mississippi River Corridor.

The city received comments and responded to all questions that were raised. In addition, the city can select the AUAR study area that analyzes only the impacts within that area.

Judges for the majority acknowledged the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board is currently "studying cumulative impact issues."

In the meantime, however, the current policy makes no reference to studying an expanded geological area.

The 300 acres of land along the river and west of County Road 75 ordered annexed to St. Paul Park from Grey Cloud Island Township last fall is at the center of differences between the city and some environmentalists.

The center and some city residents argue the land within the Critical River Corridor is zoned as rural open space and is not compatible with urban housing.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages the corridor and, at first, opposed the D.R. Horton development, which includes potentially adding 1,900 housing units over a period of 10 to 12 years and 40,000-square feet of retail space.

After meetings with the city, and adjustments of setbacks from the river and other environmental concerns, the DNR withdrew its opposition. That decision left the center alone in opposing the development.

"It will be interesting if they seek an appeal," said City Attorney Jim Shiely. "If they don't, that's pretty much the end of it."

Hoff said the city is pleased with the decision.

The last hurdle to getting the development free of court challenges is an appeal by Grey Cloud Island Township of last fall's annexation decision.

Shiely said the matter is currently in court.

He expects the appeal will be heard this month with a decision expected in May.

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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