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Open-Space Coalition Combines Groups' Efforts

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Saturday, May 21, 2005
by Megan Lindsay

A coterie of neighborhood groups has banded together to form the Eagan Open Space Coalition, a move local preservationists say is a bid to boost their leverage.

Seven groups met Thursday night to sign on to the "One Voice, One Cause" initiative, which comes at a time when residents appear to be on the losing side of a fight against two controversial development plans -- at the former Diamond T horse ranch, and at the now-closed Carriage Hills Golf Course.

The city has approved development plans at Diamond T and is deciding whether to appeal a district court order that paves the way for the 120-acre golf course to be converted into a housing subdivision and park.

"Going from NIMBY (not in my back yard) to activists is really what we are about," said Eric Vevea, of the Friends of the Diamond T.

Open space has been on the city's radar for years, and no one disputes that it's dwindling; Eagan is 90 to 95 percent developed, officials said. But often the city's hands are tied, Mayor Pat Geagan said.

"The public needs to understand that people have a right to develop," he said. "If the buyer meets everything that is called for in the city code, there is no legal way to turn them down."

The different groups have been successful in their efforts to safeguard key parcels of land -- such as the Patrick Eagan Park and Caponi Art Park -- and now hope to escalate their individual campaigns together.

Developers wield too much power in Eagan, the residents agreed.

"The next time -- a developer attempts to portray a group of local open space proponents as representatives of narrow, backyard interests, the coalition will call them on it, and make our broad-based concerns heard," said Jack Conrad, one of the organizers for Thursday's event and a board co-chair of the Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway.

"In a word, numbers speak, and by way of this coalition, we have substantially increased our numbers."

The new group represents about 1,000 members, Conrad said. About 20 residents -- many of them regulars at council sessions -- attended the kickoff meeting.

"We're not here to complain, but to provide solutions -- not to disrupt but to encourage, not to criticize but support," Mel Wong of the Carriage Hills Coalition said.

Geagan said he hopes that's what happens.

The city scrutinizes plans as closely as possible to preserve additional land and trees, and often requires developers to come back "again and again" to refine projects, he said. There's a fine line between preserving open space and becoming anti-growth, officials said.

"The other side of this coin is that I had a developer complain to me just the other day about hard we are to do business with. We have a lot of regulations and rules," Geagan said.

Council members Peggy Carlson and Mike Maguire attended the meeting Thursday, and talked to the new group about how to communicate better with the city on different projects.

"I think it's good that there is a group of people who are coming together to facilitate a community-wide dialogue," Maguire said after the meeting. "How successful they will be is yet to be seen.

"We've been increasingly having that dialogue in the city, and if their efforts can make it a larger discourse that reaches beyond neighborhoods -- I think it's a good thing."

 

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