The Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District is looking to acquire and conserve land that was approved in 2021 for single-family homes when the controversial Noble Hill development plan was OK’d.
The local watershed district’s board of managers will consider that land purchase at its Wednesday, Oct. 4, meeting.
Up for consideration during the 7 p.m. meeting are resolutions that would authorize the watershed district to enter into a purchase agreement, and also establish a process whereby the managers would take public comment Nov. 16 before formally amending their 10-year management plan to reflect the purchase.
The district is asking the Minnesota Association of Watersheds for support in securing state and county funds to help pay for the land acquisition. The district is also exploring a proposal from Hennepin County to contribute $500,000 in cooperation with the Minnesota Land Trust in exchange for placing a conservation easement on the property, according to a draft amendment to the watershed district’s management plan.
The draft amendment indicates the district plans to acquire the land for $5.775 million, preserve it from development, and eventually seek partners for educational opportunities on the property, including an interpretive center and district office. The district currently rents office space in Chanhassen.
The board of managers has been discussing the potential property transaction for several months in closed meeting sessions as permitted by the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.
Administrator Terry Jeffery said the property purchase would be contingent upon the board’s approval of the management-plan amendment following the Nov. 16 public comment. However, he didn’t foresee any obstacles to moving forward.
The draft amendment sent to managers indicates the project costs not covered by grants would be paid over 20 years through the district’s annual property tax levy. Projects already in the district’s management plan would remain, but some may be delayed because of the land purchase, Jeffery said.
The land in question is three adjoining parcels totaling 28 acres along and east of Spring Road that the district says will “complete a contiguous corridor following Riley Creek from Lake Riley to the Minnesota River.”
The parcels are adjacent to the City of Eden Prairie’s 60-acre Prairie Bluff Conservation Area on the river valley bluffs and the historic Fredrick-Miller Spring, which is on property also owned by the city.
In its resolutions scheduled to be considered Wednesday, the district states that it decided to move forward after scoring the benefits that conservation of the property would have over development.
Spring Valley Friends, a citizens group that organized to oppose the 50-home housing development, sued both the city and watershed district to stop the project but lost those court cases. The group, which has said that building homes on the steep property would harm the environment, recently filed another lawsuit against the watershed district and asked for an injunction to stop any work until environmental impacts are reconsidered. No hearing on that matter has yet been scheduled.
Though city and other agency permits were secured, construction of homes has not begun.
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