Inver Grove Heights City Council postpones contentious Argenta Trail decision

Concerned Inver Grove Heights property owners sat through more than four hours of presentations, council deliberation and public testimony at the city council meeting Monday night. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Concerned Inver Grove Heights property owners sat through more than four hours of presentations, council deliberation and public testimony at the city council meeting Monday night. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
A resident wore an "Eminent Domain Abuse" button, next to an American flag pin on the lapel of his jacket.  (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
A resident wore an "Eminent Domain Abuse" button, next to an American flag pin on the lapel of his jacket. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
From left, Inver Grove Heights homeowners Chad Hagman, Joe Blackfelner, Dominic Eisenzimmer, Brian Zahn, Erin Hannon and Doug Traun pin on "Save Argenta Homes" buttons before heading into city chambers, where council members were expected to decide on a north realignment for Argenta Trail. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
From left, Inver Grove Heights homeowners Chad Hagman, Joe Blackfelner, Dominic Eisenzimmer, Brian Zahn, Erin Hannon and Doug Traun pin on "Save Argenta Homes" buttons before heading into city chambers, where council members were expected to decide on a north realignment for Argenta Trail. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)

New alternative route holds promise of neighborhood-developer compromise

It was standing room only at the Monday, Feb. 23, Inver Grove Heights City Council meeting. Residents wearing bright yellow "Save Argenta Homes" and "Eminent Domain Abuse" buttons packed the Council chambers, anxiously awaiting a verdict on the fate of their neighborhood.

Before the meeting started, homeowner Denny Wolfe said he had talked with Council member Rosemary Piekarski Krech earlier that day and suggested that she and the others remember to bring their energy drinks, since the last meeting over such a contentious issue, involving the acquisition of homes for the Arbor Pointe project, lasted until 4 or 5 a.m.

The city Council intended to decide on a route for the realignment and expansion of Argenta Trail. Four hours into the meeting, however, the introduction of an alternative route — Option 3a — sent everyone back to the drawing board. The council members voted to table making a decision on the north realignment to further consider the new option.

Alternative route under review

In one of five original options, the project would displace at least 10 houses. In all other scenarios it would cut through an open field that would still affect at least one house, severing a developer's plot of land in most cases.

While representatives from Dakota County did not recommend Option 3a to council members, most residents in attendance contended it's the most equitable option. Residents stepped up to the podium, offering to make various compromises needed to see Option 3a through.

At an estimated cost of 7.3 to 9.8 million, which includes the right of way and grading expenses, the city's public works director Scott Thureen says the route would only uproot one home and impact 10 others. Nearly 2,500 feet of transition line, along with one large regional stormwater basin, would need to be relocated as well. 

In comparison, one of the project management team's three preferred routes — the one residents are most opposed to — would require the acquisition of 10 homes and impact 20 properties, totaling roughly 7.4 to 8.7 million.

Option 3a places the 200-foot right of way in a straight shot to the east of the existing power lines, on the Blackstone development area owned by Jim Deanovic.

Initially, Deanovic's partner from Ryland Homes, Ian Peterson, told the council Option 3a was not a viable alternative for them, asserting they "would be out if Option 3a were in the mix." Left untouched, the Blackstone development is slated for the development of possibly 180 single-family homes.

"I think we're going to have a hard time getting things permitted correctly," Peterson said, noting Option 3a would run through an existing wetland that city staff had told them not to touch.

If the road were to run through the wetland, Thureen said at the meeting, relocating the displaced wetland was not viable.

"My guess is we'd need additional volume from what remains of the Blackstone [plot] as well," he said, addressing the fact that the city would be held responsible for replacing the 1.5 acre wetland.

In a later phone interview, Thureen explained that the wetland in question is in fact classified as a four, which means it has the fewest restrictions on it. Given that information, city officials are following up with residents Nikki and Jim Abbott, who, at the meeting, volunteered to either donate or sell a portion of their horse pasture to be used for wetland mitigation.

This would "help facilitate making it work," Thureen said, because the city wouldn't need to look at rebalancing all lost wetland area on the developer's plot.

When Deanovic addressed the council, he said," I think what we ought to do is just give us a little time to meet with staff to look at this a little closer to see what we can do."

His willingness to explore the compromise laid out in Option 3a garnered a round of applause.

Following his comment, Piekarski Krech said, "The neighborhood is willing to make some concessions, too. That's what we've missed in this whole process. I'll give a little. You'll give a little. And we'll see what we can do."

Resident devised new route

A number of entities, including Dakota County, Inver Grove Heights and MnDOT, compiled the Regional System Visioning Study that identified the need to realign and expand north Argenta, among other transportation needs. County representatives and city officials worked together to draft the five realignment options prepared for the city council. But a resident, Brian Zahn, gets credit for creating Option 3a.

Looking for a better compromise that would appease his neighbors and possibly earn consent from the developer, he took a look at the price matrix and figured it'd make sense to start by leaving the power lines alone.

"Why spend the money to move a power line when you don't need to?" he said.

From there, Zahn routed the road along the east side of the power lines, mindful of salvaging most of the Blackstone plot from being severed as well.

He said he presented his plan at an open house on Jan. 7 and continued to follow up with city and county planners.

Since Option 3a was officially presented at the council meeting, council members hadn't yet been given the opportunity to explore it in detail.

"I'm amazed that the county and city engineers didn't come up with this type of option to consider earlier," Wolfe said.

Zahn, a resident since 1998, works as a designer for a remodeling company, but this city planning venture marks a first for him.

City staff and county partners in the project expressed concern over delaying approval of a north Argenta route, but will have to wait until the next council meeting on March 9 for a decision to be made, in order to move forward. 

"You may be a little bit disenchanted that there wasn't a decision," Mayor George Tourville told those in attendance. "But maybe we'll come up with a better decision."

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

 

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