July 9, 2008

Scott County Gets Key Park Parcel for Bargain Price

By David Peterson, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Jul. 9--With an assist from a state program aimed at saving woods and lakes before developers can snare them, Scott County has acquired a lakefront parcel that will one day be a centerpiece of a major regional park.

A proposal last summer to turn the 51-acre property into as many as six lakeshore lots kicked off a long sequence of negotiations and grant-seeking that has ended in a $1.2 million deal to preserve it for public use instead.

And the pricetag -- hundreds of thousands of dollars less than it might have cost a couple of years ago -- is yet another sign of how plummeting property values are producing unexpected winners and losers in the south metro area.

Given the county board's unwillingness to dip into the property tax well in a year when revenue is likely to be tight and important programs may be eyed for big cuts, County Administrator Dave Unmacht said he "doubted whether we could pull this one off."

And in fact, some of the money does come with strings attached. A major source of funding is the state's Metro Greenways program, which is aimed at preserving natural areas -- not necessarily opening them to picnics.

But Mark Themig, the county's new parks program manager, said he expects to be able to work with such restrictions.

"We will not want to significantly disrupt the resources that are there," he said. "We would not want to take out a woodlands complex, for example. We won't 'develop' this parcel as much as if we didn't have Metro Greenways money in it."

Having said that, he added, it's noteworthy that Scott County's request was ranked No. 1 in a recent round of grantmaking by the state Department of Natural Resources, which administers the program.

About half the land in hand

At stake is the future of what the county envisions as Doyle-Kennefick Regional Park, in a rural township about halfway between Prior Lake and Elko New Market. The county now owns about 440 acres of what it means to create as a 900-acre park spanning two lakes and with frontage on both.

In 2006, the 51-acre piece at the intersection of County Roads 23 and 8 -- covering nearly half the shoreline of St. Catherine Lake -- was appraised in a hotter property market at $1.6 million. By this year, the county believed, that value had sunk to just $1.1 million -- an opinion its owners didn't fully share.

In the meantime, the county's public works department decided to turn the intersection of those two county roads into a roundabout, creating a need for another $85,000 worth of land.

In the end, the Metropolitan Council, which oversees the metro area's regional parks system, came through with the biggest piece of funding, about $850,000, with the DNR's Metro Greenways adding about $279,000. The remainder comes from county sources.

There is no timeline for opening Doyle-Kennefick, Themig said, or even developing a master plan. The priority before that is persuading legislators to provide money needed to jump-start Cedar Lake Farm, another proposed regional park in the southern part of the county.

David Peterson --952-882-9023


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