Plans to rebuild a stretch of heavily traveled County Road 42 in Prior Lake have alarmed residents because some of the design proposals could claim two nearby homes.

City staffers and council members say property demolition is a last resort for the project, scheduled for construction in 2018, but that isn’t comforting worried homeowners.

County planners have been discussing redeveloping County Road 42 — a critical artery in Scott and Dakota counties — near Hwy. 13 for a decade. Now, engineers are looking at how to give a nearby residential community better access to the rebuilt highway. The options include two that would purchase homes, or use eminent domain, to make way for a connecting road, engineers say.

The county has the responsibility to explore all options, said Lezlie Vermillion, Scott County’s assistant administrator, including more recent designs that have concerned residents. “We understand that when we’re dealing with somebody’s home, it becomes an emotional conversation,” Vermillion said.

County officials visited the two homeowners last month to survey their interest in selling. The homeowners weren’t expecting the visit, although it’s standard for officials to start such conversations privately, Vermillion said.

“This has been a nightmare. An absolute nightmare,” said one of the homeowners, Zach Braid. Braid and his wife, Erin, received the visit to their home on Rutgers Street, where they’ve lived for two years, in February, five days after they were married. They have since organized neighborhood meetings, attended city and county meetings and started an online petition called “Save Our Home!” that’s drawn more than 500 signatures.

The couple along with more than 100 other residents attended a Prior Lake neighborhood meeting on March 9 to protest, adding that they asked the county two years ago about potential redevelopment plans and were told no plans would take houses. Residents also objected to bringing more traffic to the neighborhood.

“The resounding thing was: Don’t take houses,” Braid said. “There are other options that are viable and more cost-effective than what they’ve proposed.”

In the late 2000s, five homes were razed for a county road project, Vermillion said, but in that case the homeowners were willing or planning to sell.

“We have never at any point in time said that we are going to come out and take people’s homes,” county engineer Tony Winiecki said.

“As this road has been improved and built up over the years we look at opportunities like this to make continued overall system improvements.”

Those assurances don’t mean much to the Braids.

“They’re so good at saying, ‘This is a preliminary thing, no decisions have been made, just calm down,’ ” Erin Braid said.

The next discussion — a City Council work session in Prior Lake on March 28 — is expected to draw crowds, though such meetings are not typically open to public comment.

Even though it’s a joint project, the final decision rests mostly with Scott County. The County Board is expected to vote on the project in April or May.

“For me, and I think others, eminent domain is the last option that we would consider,” said Commissioner Barbara Marschall, who represents the area. “We do legally have that option. I think we have a good track record to say that we don’t use eminent domain unless there is no other way.”

Natalie Daher
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