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City ranking properties to be purchased for park land

December 22, 2005
By Karla Wennerstrom, Eden Prairie News

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Terry Picha says developers are literally knocking on his door, seeking to buy the four-acre parcel next to his farmstead in northern Eden Prairie.

The site next to the 32-acre Birch Island Woods conservation area is one of several parcels the city could buy with funds from the recently approved Park Referendum and park dedication fees.
At its Dec. 13 meeting, the Eden Prairie City Council authorized staff to prioritize parcels for purchase as parks and open space, including two that are available for purchase now.
The council also directed staff to negotiate with the two property owners, the Pichas and the owners of 9291 Riley Lake Road, to “determine the lowest possible price for those parcels at this time.” The council has not authorized any purchase.

Todd Jackson of Victoria, who works in Eden Prairie, owns the Riley Lake Road parcel, adjacent to Riley Lake Park. “We thought we were going to use it as a cabin,” Jackson said. “We decided it was a little busier than we had hoped.” “We knew the city had some interest in buying the property in the past,” he said. “It makes sense for the city to have that property.”

The Parks and Recreation Commission is set to make a recommendation to the City Council after its Jan. 9 meeting, which is open to the public, though not a public hearing City Manager Scott Neal said it’s a matter of which properties are most important given the city’s limited resources. He said the decision on whether to purchase one of the properties would probably come before the council “later this spring.”
“ We do risk not being able to purchase the properties identified because of the length of time it takes to go through the decision-making process,” Neal said, saying the council would only purchase a property “for the right reasons.”

“Something’s going to have to happen fairly quickly,” Jackson said of his Riley Lake Road site, saying he won’t “sit on the property indefinitely.” In an e-mail to Parks and Recreation Director Bob Lambert, Jackson wrote that the asking price for the Riley Lake Road property was $425,000, but he would be willing to discuss other offers.

Of the four-acres next to the Birch Island Woods, Picha said, “My hopes would be that this property could become part of the Birch Island Woods Conservation area.” He said he is in a partnership that owns half of the land and his uncle owns the other half. A 2004 appraisal valued the property at $800,000.

“We’ve been waiting for a number of years on this,” Picha said. “We’d like to know by spring of 2006. We’d have to really have something, some purchase agreement signed, at least have some commitment.” Picha operates a farm in Eden Prairie that has been in his family for five generations, he said, and is a “very good example of early Czechoslovakian homesteads that were in this area when Eden Prairie was a township.”

The land would be a last piece of the puzzle for the Birch Island Woods conservation area, he said. “I would feel that there’s been a mission accomplished if we could incorporate it into the greenspace.”

Jeff Strate of the Friends of the Birch Island Woods said the same two parcels were up for sale last year. He said at the time the city was to finance part of the purchase of the Picha families’ four acres with a grant from the Department of Natural Resources. Then that program didn’t receive enough funding to offer the grant, Strate said, and the purchase of the property was put on hold.

He said the Picha property is the most important on the list of properties the city will consider, because if it is sold to developers it would mean the loss of trees and affect the access to the Birch Island Woods’ trails. He said it is part of a larger swath of open space and has a variety of environmental, recreational and historic features.

Lambert said the commission will try to look at the entire park system and make a recommendation based on the overall good to the community. “Each one is pretty different,” Lambert said of the two properties available now. “One is a conservation area that is trying to preserve and keep an environmental area intact. The other is an acquisition of a parcel in a community park where the recreational opportunities are affected. Each council member and each commission member has a different way of measuring what’s more important to the community.

“I could argue for either one pretty effectively, if I really wanted to get argumentative about it,” Lambert said. He said in the end the council could decide to buy all or part of the two properties, or, if it decides another parcel is of a higher priority, could save the funds until those come on the market. “The city is fortunate to be able to be in a position to have some funds to be able to make a choice,” he said.

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