A lawsuit against the City of Eden Prairie over the potential construction of homes near Fredrick-Miller Spring and the Minnesota River Valley has been dismissed, with plaintiffs now pinning their hopes on government or nonprofit purchase and preservation of the property as open space.
The city and the plaintiffs – Rebecca Prochaska and Spring Valley Friends, LLC – agreed March 22 to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, provided the city doesn’t oppose efforts in the Minnesota Legislature or elsewhere to fund acquisition of the land for permanent open space.
The development was called Noble Hill. It called for 50 homes on 28 acres northeast of the city-owned freshwater spring that lies along Spring Road, north of Flying Cloud Drive in southern Eden Prairie.
Planning and zoning approvals were OK’d by the Eden Prairie City Council in May 2021, and opponents filed a lawsuit shortly thereafter, contending under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act that the city in its approvals hadn’t adequately protected the environment, including steep slopes and groundwater.
Attorneys for both sides described this week’s outcome as favorable.
“The city is very happy the lawsuit has been dismissed with prejudice,” said the city’s attorney, John Baker. “With prejudice” means the outcome is final, with no appeal or re-filing of the suit possible.
“This keeps open a window of opportunity,” said James Peters, the attorney for Spring Valley Friends and Prochaska, while noting that efforts are underway in the Minnesota Legislature to include in the state’s bonding bill a $5 million appropriation to purchase and preserve the 28 acres in Eden Prairie.
“It’s hopeful this is a way the group can move forward,” he said.
Eden Prairie lawmakers are authoring the legislative bills: state Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn on House File 2865 and state Sen. Steve Cwodzinski on Senate File 2877.
A bonding bill has already been blocked in the Minnesota Senate, so its end-of-session fate and the fate of alternatives such as a smaller, cash-only projects bill are uncertain. “I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic,” said Cwodzinski, who added that hearings on the local funding request are continuing.
However, the construction of homes on the property as approved by the city in 2021 is also a possibility. The dismissal agreement, said Baker, “doesn’t change any city decisions, including land-use approvals.”
Commenting about the lawsuit dismissal, Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case said that, from a council perspective, “We’re pleased it’s behind us.”
The council has always felt it made the right decisions in 2021, he added. However, if the state or watershed district purchases the land, “that would be wonderful,” said Case. The city would likely not pursue a purchase on its own, he noted.
A second lawsuit by development opponents is against the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District and remains in play, with plaintiffs appealing an Oct. 3 dismissal by District Court Judge Susan Burke on procedural grounds. The watershed district issued approvals for Noble Hill’s construction. This case is separate from the environmental case filed against the City of Eden Prairie. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments for May 10.
The March 22 agreement came minutes after opposing sides, the judge, and a jury pool arrived in court to start the civil trial. However, Baker and Peters said both sides have been discussing potential agreements since mediation sessions last August.
“We believe that this settlement demonstrates the power of cooperation and compromise in addressing complex environmental challenges,” Peters said about the late agreement.
Reaction from Standal family
The Standal family, who have owned the nearly 28 acres of land earmarked for the project for 46 years and previously operated it as a Christmas tree farm, said in a statement on Friday that they are relieved that the “Rebecca Prochaska/Spring Valley Friends lawsuit” is settled.
“Rebecca Prochaska and Sue Bennett and their friends tried for two years to stop the development of the land that has belonged to our family for almost 50 years,” the family said in the email statement to EPLN. “They have no good reason to stop it – they just don’t want their views from [their]windows to change.”
The family accused the group of lying to the public and making false claims about the potential dangers of the project, “telling everyone who would listen that the spring is in danger and the homes will slide into the creek, and that there are burial mounds on the site, and numerous other false claims, all of which has been proven false by experts. This group does not care about the facts.”
They further claimed that the lawsuit had cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages due to the delay in the sale of the land, and that the city had to defend its approval of the project for two years, which was paid for by taxpayers.
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