Downtown frustration mounts: Thisweek Newspapers, Burnsville MN MN, 5/18/07

Port Authority sets public hearing to receive comment about using eminent domain

By Tad Johnson

The Rosemount [MN] Port Authority on May 15 set a public hearing for June 19 to receive comment regarding its intent to acquire the Ratzlaff Service Station property by eminent domain to move forward with a proposed mixed-use downtown redevelopment plan.

Although the public hearing has been set, city officials say they will continue to attempt to break the purchase agreement stalemate with the landowner — Dr. Kurt Walter-Hansen, a Rosemount veterinarian.

“Our commitment is to continue to negotiate, and we’ll be very open to settlement within that time period,” said City Administrator Jamie Verbrugge, who has met with Hansen five times in the past few months. “We are not closing the books on any decisions with Dr. Hansen.”

Mike Baxter, Port Authority chairman, said the city will continue to work with Hansen and his legal counsel to resolve the issue before using eminent domain.

After speaking with Hansen’s attorney, Baxter said he is confident that he can mediate an agreement between Hansen and the city.

Port Authority members approved an action to set the hearing by a 5-2 vote with commissioners Bill Droste, the city’s mayor, and Philip Sterner, who is also a City Council member, voting no.

Droste said he voted against setting the public hearing because of the perception it would create among those in the community.

“I would not want to create any negative outcomes,” Droste said. “We ought to be able to do this without going to eminent domain.”

Setting the public hearing is not a final decision that the city will use eminent domain to acquire the corner lot of the downtown redevelopment area of Core Block East. The hearing is set in order to receive public comment regarding the possible action.

Baxter said a decision to use eminent domain wouldn’t come until August.

For the past two years, the city’s contracted developer and the city have been unable to forge a purchase agreement for the Ratzlaff lot and three other lots with houses/businesses that Hansen owns.

The Port Authority set the public hearing following a closed session discussion of Hansen’s written response to the city’s April 13 purchase offer for the Ratzlaff property and three other sites in Core Block East.

Hansen had until May 14 to respond to the offer after he was granted two-week extension from the original deadline.

Droste said Hansen wrote that he is a willing seller, did not indicate whether Hansen accepted or denied the offer or made a counteroffer.

Toward the end of the meeting, Port Authority Member Bruno DiNella asked Hansen to answer “yes or no” when asked whether he accepted the city’s offer for the purchase price.

Hansen did not answer either way, indicating that he was not satisfied with the city’s offer, which he claims is $75,000 lower than what he paid for the property last year, and that he needed to have another appraisal of the property completed.

Port Authority members have in the past said Hansen has attempted to artificially inflate the price of the property through his purchase.

Stonebridge Development & Acquisition of Apple Valley, the city’s contracted developer for Core Block East, proposes to construct a building with 95 apartment units and about 13,000 square feet of commercial space.

The development concept does not include the properties Haupt Antiek Market, Quilter’s Haven, Music Magic and the Tri-Store. The city is not seeking an eminent domain hearing for those properties.

Hansen says the Stonebridge project is not supported by the public. He also cited a petition signed by Rosemount and non-Rosemount residents opposing the use of eminent domain for downtown redevelopment.

Baxter said the city has been working toward downtown redevelopment for the past decade.

“There should be some form of up or down vote on it,” Baxter said of the Core Block East project. “I think the citizens deserve a vote on this project.”

Thisweek Newspapers, Burnsville MN: http://www.thisweek-online.com