Lawsuit against Medina asks for eminent domain

A dispute about use of land located east of Baker Park in Medina has led to the July 3 filing of a lawsuit against the city of Medina in Hennepin County District Court.

Attorneys from the law firm Monroe Moxness Berg filed the lawsuit on behalf of Stonegate Farm Inc. and Property Resources Development Corporation (PRDC). The suit alleges that prairie that was planted on the property was inaccurately classified as “native mesic prairie.” “Representatives contracted and employed by (Medina) intentionally and purposefully misrepresented the character of the property, falsely increasing its natural resource value and depressing its commercial value with the intent to eventually acquire the property by condemnation,” the law suit says.

The lawsuit continues, “Upon information and belief, the City is working in concert with other regional agencies to reject any commercial development of the property.”

The lawsuit also says that Stonegate purchased the property with “the reasonable expectation” that it would hold on to it until it receives municipal services (such as sewer and water). At that point it would be developed. A concept plan that Stonegate submitted to Medina showed approximately 100 home sites. Stonegate purchased the property and made investments in it based upon this expectation, and city actions allegedly have damaged Stonegate’s interests.

The lawsuit also alleges that Medina intentionally passed an ordinance “in an effort to increase the cost and reduce the value of the property for development.” This claim relates to a dispute between Medina and Stonegate over the existence of the Deer Hill Road right of way through the property. If the city ROW does not exist, the developer would have to pay for constructing a private road. The Stonegate/PRDC attorneys are asking for compensation of in excess of $50,000.

Another count in the complaint talks about the unconstitutional taking of property for public use without just compensation. The claim is that failure to recognize the right of way, passage of an ordinance that prohibits any reasonable development of the property and the failure to accept PRDC’s challenge of a Hennepin County Soil Survey constitute an unconstitutional taking of the property.

The Stonegate/PRDC attorneys are asking for a writ of mandamus compelling Medina to immediately begin eminent domain proceedings with respect to the taking of the property. The attorneys are asking for “just compensation” for taking of the property in excess of $50,000.

According to the lawsuit, the Stonegate property had been farmed at least since the 1890s. In 1970 Joint Independent School District No. 287 assembled parcels of land that spanned 170 acres with the idea of using the site for a vocational technical school. The school district failed in its attempts to gain city approval for the project and then sold the land to Louise Otten.

Stonegate bought the property in 1994 with the intention of eventually developing the property with residential lots.

While waiting for utilities, Stonegate planted row crops, including corn and soybeans, and enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Preserve Program.

The developer also decided to participate in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. One of the requirements was putting together a conservation plan. Stonegate used the plan as a first step in developing a conservation development in which homes would be integrated with a planted and tended prairie grass mix. The developer planted on 110 acres a mix of prairie grasses. “None of the plantings were ‘native,’ as the land had been actively farmed for decades,” the lawsuit says.

After that Medina received a grant from the Department of Natural Resources for participating in Metro Greenways with the Hennepin Conservation District (HCD). In 1999, Medina began to put together a natural resources inventory with the help of David Thill of the HCD. Thill classified the Stonegate plantings as native mesic prairie. The results of the allegedly inaccurate classification of the plantings as native mesic prairie had consequences. The information was shared amongst a number of government agencies, which made decisions on the basis of the information. PRDC and Stonegate challenged the native mesic prairie classification.

The lawsuit alleges that Three Rivers Parks and the city of Medina were looking at the Stonegate property as a potential trail connection between Baker Park and the Wolsfeld Woods Scientific and Natural Area.

In August 2012, PRDC submitted to Medina an application for a preliminary plat for an eight-lot rural residential subdivision. So far PRDC has been unsuccessful in gaining plat approval and Stonegate and PRDC have decided to sue Medina.

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

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