Landowner wants to do it his way; the city has other ideas: Minneapolis MN Star Tribune, 7/10/07

Land owned by a Rosemount veterinarian is at the center of a heated community debate over eminent domain

By Sarah Lemagie

The Rosemount Port Authority will hold the continuation of a public hearing on whether to use eminent domain to force the purchase of property owned by Kurt Hansen at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Dakota Room of Dakota County Technical College, 1300 145th St. E.

When Kurt Hansen learned three years ago that the city of Rosemount could force him, in the name of downtown redevelopment, to sell property he owned, he began learning all he could about eminent domain.

At the time, Hansen wasn't opposed to redeveloping the old house where he started Shamrock Animal Hospital in 1985. Actually, he bought the two houses next door intending to expand his clinic on the property, before opening his new hospital a few blocks away in 1996.

But Hansen, who owns half a dozen properties in downtown Rosemount and Apple Valley, wanted to redevelop the property - and reap the benefits - himself.

So he was appalled when, in 2005, the city's Port Authority passed up his plan for a new building and chose to work with another developer on commercial space and housing on the block east of Hwy. 3 and south of 146th Street.

"I could not imagine that the city wouldn't want to work with me, because it was my land," he said.

Since then, Hansen, a Danish-born veterinarian, has become a local lightning rod in the debate over eminent domain, the forced sale of private property for public purpose.

Though Hansen has described himself as a "willing seller," negotiations to buy his property have gone nowhere, frustrating Port Authority members who say the offers have been more than fair.

"You've got to be reasonable," said Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste. "If people want to make a profit far ... above market rate, I would have a difficult time using taxpayer money" to pay for land.

Failed bid for mayor's seat
In May, the Port Authority voted to consider using eminent domain to force the sale of land owned by Hansen - though not the three houses he and the city initially clashed over. After residents spoke out against plans that would force the businesses that rent the houses from Hansen to move, neither the city nor Hansen are pursuing plans that would tear the buildings down.

Instead, the authority is targeting a neighboring parcel, key to redevelopment plans, that Hansen bought last fall after its owner declined to sell to the developer picked by the city.

Don Ratzlaff, who owns a service station and truck rental business at Hwy. 3 and 146th Street, said Hansen first approached him about the property five or six years ago. He sold it in the end because of the threat of eminent domain. "I did not like the ax hanging over my head," he said.

Hansen paid Ratzlaff $450,000 in October 2006, significantly more than the city's developer offered, Ratzlaff said. Hansen, who still wants to develop the property himself, bought the land on the theory that the more he owned on the block, "the more likely they would be to work with me."

But "that's not the incentive to work with [Hansen], that's the incentive to walk away," Droste said.

The purchase came in the midst of Hansen's bid to unseat Droste last fall, a campaign he ran despite the fact that, if elected, his ownership of land coveted by the city could have created a conflict of interest. But Hansen didn't see a problem. Nor, apparently, did the 41 percent of voters who cast ballots for him.

Protesting eminent domain
Hansen's supporters describe him as a hardworking entrepreneur with the right to profit from his investments. He "takes risks and puts it all on the line and reaps benefits - and reaps benefits for the community," said Debra Kaczmarek, a Rosemount resident who has known Hansen for 25 years. Kaczmarek serves on Save Rosemount, a committee opposing the use of eminent domain that has gathered more than 3,000 petition signatures and mailed three newsletters to every household in Rosemount in the past two months.

Though he wouldn't name a figure, Hansen acknowledges that he has paid a "sizeable amount" in newsletter mailing costs, representing a "majority" of contributions to the group. The committee has five members, he said, but he's not one of them.

At a June hearing on eminent domain, about 150 people packed a Port Authority meeting at City Hall. Of the dozen who testified before time ran out, most opposed the forced sale of Hansen's property. The authority has scheduled a continuation for Monday, and a final decision on whether to pursue eminent domain could come in August.

Because of a new state law making it harder for cities to condemn property for economic development, Rosemount has a February 2008 deadline by which to act.

Droste said he's inclined to vote against using eminent domain against Hansen, pointing out that Rosemount could focus on redevelopment of city land in the nearby Genz-Ryan block or next to the new public library to be built on the old site of the Church of St. Joseph.

"We have other options and other places to go," he said.

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