A developer must pay $5,000 for violating a watershed district permit while developing the former shoreline estate of the late Douglas Dayton.
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District took the rare step of issuing a compliance order this fall to developer George Stickney after he had removed a wetland buffer and 54 box elder, buckthorn and willow trees, violating the permit for the project.
Stickney is subdividing the nearly 90-acre property north of Wayzata on Mooney Lake, which includes parts of Plymouth, Medina and Orono.
"That's what we worried about in the beginning ... [that] he'd clear cut everything," said resident Anne Healy Shapiro, who signed onto a suit that sought to stop the project. "I don't understand why anyone would do that if they love the lake."
Dayton — the executive credited with launching Target, a grandson of the Dayton's department store founder and uncle of Gov. Mark Dayton — owned the land for about 50 years, restoring fields and building trails in the dense forest. He died in 2013 and his widow, Wendy, received $5.3 million last year when she sold the property, one of Orono's biggest remaining parcels of open land.
Stickney, an agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet and principal with BPS Properties, got approval from the City Council for 11 homes and the watershed district last year for Mooney Lake Preserve. He could not be reached for comment last week.
So far, a road and tennis court have been built and the city has issued two of the 11 building permits. Only nine houses may end up being built since one owner bought two lots with plans to preserve them, senior city planner Mike Gaffron said. According to documents, some of the lots have sold for $500,000 to about $1.1 million. More than half the estate will remain in its natural state.
"It's one of the few large parcels left in the city," Gaffron said. "I think it's going to be a nice development."
But in September, the watershed issued a compliance order to Stickney after a routine inspection found several wetland violations.
"It should not have been compromised," said Tim Curtin, president of the Mooney Lake Association. "Now it's just a matter of ensuring the development is in accordance with what was granted."
Compliance orders are issued only if a property owner fails to implement corrective actions or there's a high risk of affecting natural resources. The watershed district doesn't impose penalties or fines, but required Stickney to pay $5,000 to ensure that restoration will be completed in three to five years; then the money would be returned to him.
Some neighbors on Mooney Lake, however, are upset about the loss of brush and trees on land that Dayton restored. About 50 homes owned by some of the Twin Cities' most prominent families dot the small lake.
Dayton "cared about not only his land, but the lake," resident Peter Rechelbacher said.
Last year, 13 neighbors sued in Hennepin County District Court, arguing that development of the grasslands and woods would destroy remnants of the historic Big Woods forest and violate the state Environmental Rights Act. Their attorney called the project a "slap in the face" to Dayton and his land preservation, while Stickney's attorney argued neighbors sued "at the 11th hour."
The court issued a temporary injunction, but by then the watershed district and City Council had approved the permit and final plat. Since the excavation, tree removal and demolition of the Dayton house already had begun, the neighbors withdrew their complaint in December 2015.
Now the watershed district is working with the developer on a plan to replant trees, plants and grasses. Neighbors will be watching to make sure it happens.
"It's a major concern for a lot of people," Rechelbacher said, adding that the restoration could be better than what was there before. "Some of it is being preserved, but with development and change, it's been hard."