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CAG to Mayor and Council: Halt Proposed Stemmer Ridge Project

Mayor Hedberg and Members of the Council,

Ten members of the CAG Steering Committee met this week to discuss the proposed Stemmer Ridge extension project.  We reviewed key aspects from the City’s feasibility report, and various letters from residents of Spring Lake Estates that were sent to the Council and that appeared in the Prior Lake American.  Undoubtedly if we lived in their neighborhood, we would share their concerns just as we expect you would.  The idea of their quiet neighborhood being transformed into a cut-through from County Road 12 to essentially the entrance to a 24/7 casino that serves alcohol (with your forecast of 6000 cars per day), can hardly be viewed as a step in the direction of preserving small town values. Since the neighborhood has already expressed their concerns, CAG has focused its attention on the question of policy.  Our Steering Committee was unanimous in arriving at the following conclusions:

1) It is always bad policy for City Government  to lead the way in determining what parcels of land should be developed, when they should be developed, and how they should be developed, but that is exactly what has been proposed in the feasibility study.  If this is approved, it will be the City Staff and Council (and lest we forget, paid consultants) who will determine street and utility location, sans input or financial commitment from a credible and interested developer.  This places the financial risk for initial costs squarely on Prior Lake taxpayers.  And almost certainly, final development costs can be expected to increase when an actual developer is confronted with accommodating the concrete-in-place results of City Hall’s decision.

2) While City Hall’s feasibility report forecasts recovery of the invested taxpayer dollars via assessments, it didn’t escape our attention that about a third of the projected route for road and utilities rests on SMSC Tribal owned property.  Tribal leaders have repeatedly stated that it is their goal to have tribal owned property placed in Tribal Trust, thereby removing it from Prior Lake’s jurisdiction and tax base.  This raises questions about the possibility of recovering invested dollars from a sovereign nation. The City of Duluth has discovered that it’s not easy.

3) The feasibility report also noted that some of the land the City proposes to develop is currently in Green Acres, thereby preventing residential development.  This also raises questions about if and when invested taxpayer dollars can be recovered via assessments.

4) And if the City opts to initially install utilities only, how challenging will it be to collect assessments on property that is not actually being developed until sometime in the future, and can the cost of the utilities that would already be in the ground be recovered by assessments possibly years later.

5) The issues and questions above present only a few of the reasons that Cities should not take the lead in land development, and should not expose taxpayers to the associated financial risk.  We fully understand the right of private property owners to develop their property and to reap financial benefits, and we fully support it when it is done in accordance with zoning laws and in cooperation with a credible developer who is willing to pick up his share of the costs.  We do not support a development that is being initiated, directed, and managed by City Hall that puts taxpayers at risk, and without the input and financial commitment of an invested developer.

In conclusion we recommend in the strongest way possible, that this project be abandoned until such time as a credible developer proposes a plan that recognizes the concerns of the residents of Spring Lake Estates, and that poses no risk to Prior Lake taxpayers.

Citizens for Accountable Government Wes Mader, Chair