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Edenvale’s orphaned outlots to be rescued by the City

FROM: Friends of Birch Island Woods

Edenvale’s orphaned outlots to be rescued by the City
A Whole Earth Catalogue concept survives in Eden Prairie

The Eden Prairie City Council agreed on February 18th to begin the process of transforming some 21 outlots northwest of Valley View and Mitchell Roads into city parks and open spaces. The natural parcels, wildlife corridors and common areas became an issue when one of them, a wooded acre on Edenvale Boulevard was nearly auctioned off to developers last May.

The outlots are part of Edenvale, a swath of forest, wetland and neighborhoods which in 1970, after The Preserve, became Eden Prairie’s second planned unit development. Neglect of the Edenvale Association, the area’s home owners organization, led to its involuntary dissolution in 1997 and an unsure future for the outlots.

During the Age of Aquarius and the Whole Earth Catalogue when city planning was, perhaps, more fun, the Edenvale concept was described in a news release as a mix of multi-family residential, condominiums and apartments with industrial, commercial and office sectors set alongside 200 acres of open space, connecting trails, greenways and a golf course -- “Ecology Guides Plans for Edenvale, New 1,000 Acre Community” boasted the headline.

Except for the substitution of office/industrial complexes for a regional shopping center and the presence of more single family homes than intended, the Edenvale concept with its living-with-nature aspects, according to a recent City report, remained in tact. But the demise of the homeowners association put Edenvale’s outlots into the kind of Limbo inhabited by tax forfeit land meaning that some of them could be sold by Hennepin County for development. When a $63 utility bill against the acre-sized, Edenvale Boulevard outlot went unpaid, a process was triggered causing the parcel to be listed for the county’s May 3, 2002 land auction.

Actions by nearby residents and the Friends of Birch Island Woods led to the formation of the Edenvale Conservation Group (ECG) and the temporary removal of the outlot from the sale. ECG legal council Tom Casey and the City determined that insufficient information about the parcel disqualified it from the May auction.

Case closed? Hardly. Once all of the characteristics of the outlot were known (It had a utility easement.), Hennepin County would again move to sell it. Moreover, during the examination of the outlot’s history, a City team headed by Public Works Director Gene Dietz and an ECG team headed by Roger Person discovered that other Edenvale outlots had fallen into the same legal Limbo.

“I didn’t realize when we started,” says Person, whose townhouse overlooks the Edenvale Boulevard outlot, “how really difficult it would be to track down the details.”

But that is what Person did: He made calls, searched old files, marked maps, interviewed residents and recorded their stories. By August, being able to reference county property records, 30-year old Realtor brochures and developer agreements, Person and Birch Island Woods/Minnesota Land Trust veteran Jeff Strate mailed informational alerts to homes bordering the seven outlots they felt were most vulnerable to tax forfeit action.

In the meantime, the more information Person and Dietz gathered, the more confusing the outlot situation became. County records showed that different entities of the Edenvale Association were listed as outlot owners. With leads provided by residents Don Opheim, John Gilles and others, Person eventually found and interviewed one of Edenvale’s first Realtors and the last, legal custodian of the defunct association, an attorney who had retired to Arizona. Profiles of the outlots were beginning to take form.

“Few Edenvale residents realized how vulnerable the natural appeal of their neighborhoods could have become,” says Strate. In spite of the soft economy, the real estate market remains hot; new houses are being shoe-horned into vacant and subdivided lots and revenue shortfalls are prompting local governments to expand their property tax bases where ever they can -- the hunt for orphaned properties is on.

“Living comfortably with nature is the norm in this part of Eden Prairie,” says Strate, referring to another possible fallout of the association’s demise. Without the safety net of association covenants, Strate and others feared that Edenvale could become “Cluttervale”. Even with the old restrictions, the odd tree house, shed, fence and junk pile had encroached onto some of Edenvale’s green spaces. “With out the leaves, the old woods can look kind of junky,” says Strate. “As Pogo saw it,” he laments, “‘we have met the enemy and he is us.”’

For a time, the City staff and the Edenvale Conservation Group thought that one or several new homeowner associations could take over the outlots. But given the complexities and the poor performance record of single family home owners associations, that scenario has been, for the most part, rejected. For example, Roger Person found unanimous agreement to keep the Edenvale Boulevard outlot protected but much less interest in donating money to help his effort or buy back the land. “Mustering up the will and energies for a new association with hundreds of members would be impossible,” he advised the city.

The City’s disposition concurs with Person. Beginning with the parcel that sparked the fuss, the City will begin figuring out how to turn the outlots into City-owned open spaces and develop management and liability plans for them. “We are absolutely on the right track,” said Person. “There are problems to work out, but we’ll soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

During the City Council’s discussion on the matter a week ago Tuesday, it occurred to Jeff Strate that eight years ago, one of Mayor NancyTyra-Lukens first initiatives as a (then) new council member was to have the old, outdated, Edenvale directional sign at Valley View and Mitchell Roads removed.

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