City's eminent domain petition OK'd: Princeton MN Union-Eagle, 10/19/06

By Joel Stottrup

Mille Lacs County District Court Judge Steve Ruble has ruled in favor of the city of Princeton in the city’s petition to proceed with eminent domain to acquire land for extending city sewer and water mains to the west.

The city has mains extended now to the Rivertown Crossing development area bounded by Highway 95 on the north, First Street on the south, Pine Loft Road (21st Avenue) on the west and Highway 169 on the east.

The city’s plan is to extend the mains just under 4,000 feet farther west.

The driving force originally to extend the mains was the proposed Heritage Village housing development.

Solid Ground, the development company, had proposed building more than 500 housing units at Heritage Village but early this year the plan went into hibernation.

The approximately 200-acre site of that proposal was west of where First Street curves to the north, and west of County Road 3 going south of First Street.

But there is still development potential before even getting that far west. Robert Soule, and Mike Williams, to name a couple of landowners, have land west of the Pine Loft Road axis and east of where First Street turns north.

Ten parcels would be affected by eminent domain, which is the forcing of people to sell their land.

Parcels 1-3 are listed under Robert W. and Madelyn N. Soule.

Parcel 4 is listed under New Life Christian Center, Peoples Bank of Commerce, and United Power Association.

Parcel 5 is listed under Scott J. and Paula J. Schmidt, Paul C. and Susan G. Walker, and Matthew Walker, and Sherburne State Bank.

Robert M. and Shearon D. Pontious and Peoples Bank of Commerce have parcel 6.

Michael F. and Toni J. Williams have parcel 7. Jane E. Odgers and Bank of America have parcel 9.

Parcel 10 is listed as 3K limited liability partnership, Woodlands National Bank; Frank D. Simon Jr., and Carol Simon; Dinner at Five, Inc.

Gale D. and Dennis M. Hatch have parcel 11.

The findings by Judge Ruble, from the Seventh Judicial District, were that an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) is not needed for the utility extensions.

This was based on the calculation that even if the 869 acres where the mains would go were fully developed as industrial, the average daily flow of sewage would be 869,000 gallons.

That is well short of the 1 million gallons per day that would trigger an EAW, the court found.

At least one attorney claimed during the June 28 eminent domain hearing this year that the city had not chosen the best route for the extension.

The court agreed with consulting engineer Mike Nielson’s response during the June 28 hearing that the city’s route choice is a “reasonable exercise of municipal authority.”

The court also found that during the past several years the city received requests for city utilities regarding more than half the parcels abutting what the extension would be. Those requests could not be accommodated without city sewer and water, the court found.

Testimony cited
The court findings noted City Council member Lee Steinbrecher’s testimony that a few days before the hearing he had spent most of the day talking to developers for a “big box” retail store about parcel 1. City sewer and water would be needed to make that happen, Steinbrecher had said.

The court findings state that city utilities have to be in place in advance of someone wanting to locate on parcels.

The court also stated that the city “experienced loss of” the Heritage Village development that had been proposed due to the city’s “failure to have these public utilities immediately available.”

The court also pointed to the council’s resolution this past July 12 to proceed immediately with the utility extension. The court said the proposed taking of the needed land for the extension is necessary.

The only thing the court found lacking in the city’s plan was that its planning commission had not reviewed the proposed acquisition and submitted written findings that the utility extension comply with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The planning commission met last Thursday and submitted the written statement that the extension project would comply with the comprehensive plan.

City Attorney Richard Schieffer told the City Council last Thursday that it is “unusual” to have as much as five to six hours of testimony and two hearings for an eminent domain petition, as happened in this case.

He noted that if either side is dissatisfied with the district court’s decision, they can appeal to district court for a jury hearing.

The council passed two motions last Thursday relating to the eminent domain decision. One was to accept the planning commission’s finding that the proposed utility extension is compatible with the comprehensive plan.

The other was to have a feasibility study done for the project.

The court will have to appoint three commissioners to ascertain and report the amount of money or damages the city will be liable to pay for the taking of land for the utility extension.

The determination of the cost must be made no later than 90 days from the date the commissioners are appointed.

The commissioners are to each be paid $200 per day and 45 cents per mile, and reasonable compensation for meals. Schieffer told the council the city has to pay those costs.

Princeton MN Union-Eagle: http://www.unioneagle.com