Sod-farm use develops into grass-roots issue in Ham Lake

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 24, 2008 - 9:48 PM

The northern suburb is split on the right approach for retaining the community's rural character.

The Ham Lake City Council has drawn a line in the sod.

On one side is the mayor, who says it's time to let landowners develop sod fields without city restrictions that call for a minimum of one acre of land for each house.

"Instead of spreading 40 houses over 40 acres, what I'd like to do is take these 40 houses, cluster them," said Mayor Paul Meunier. "Use 5 or 6 acres for housing and turn the rest back to its natural habitat. You'd have wetlands, wildlife preserves that guarantee open space forever. We'd maintain our rural character."

But that's not how things have been done before in Ham Lake, say other members of the City Council.

"One acre, one house," said Joey Erikson, one of four City Council members who support the current development plan.

"I support future farm-sod development," Erikson said. "I've seen the great developments that have occurred in Blaine. But I don't support cluster."

At issue is the very fabric -- or sod -- on which this community in northern Anoka County is built.

Ham Lake is not Blaine. But like its fast-growing neighbor directly to the south, Ham Lake has developed some of its sod fields, with dramatic results. Where sod once grew, Blaine has the Tournament Players Course and International Market Square. In Ham Lake, former sod fields include the Bluegrass Estates and West Coon Lake Shores Estates.

But as Ham Lake continues with its comprehensive plan concerning sod-farm land use, the sod issue has divided the community, much the way many issues have in recent months -- with the mayor, looking a few generations ahead on one side, and the rest of the City Council clutching to the recent past.

It almost appears that certain members of the council oppose Meunier just for politics' sake. Not so, said Erikson, who, like other council members, have fought Meunier and the idea of partnering with East Bethel to bring sewer and water infrastructure toHam Lake.

"I support future sod development, but with the current comprehensive plan," Erikson said. "That will retain rural character."

Meunier often speaks of "rural character" in a city that has a personality split by a main drag -- Hwy. 65 -- that boasts a healthy variety of businesses not often found in rural communities, including a Corvette Shop.

"I think we need to define what rural character really means," he said. "Rural character seems to have taken on this mythic meaning here.

"There's so much more to rural character than large lot sizes. If that's the only way we measure rural character, then we're missing the boat."

Meunier advocates "wetland banking" -- preserving wetlands and the wildlife habitat associated with wetlands for future generations.

He praises Blaine's development but notes that Blaine is Blaine and Ham Lake is something very different. Blaine has "completely re-engineered" the soil, he said. Meunier said he prefers to leave much of Ham Lake's wetlands the way they are.

As for the one-acre, one-house rule that may dictate sod field development, Meunier said, "It's inevitable that we will have a City Council that will change this, so why not do it now?

"It's unrealistic to ignore economic pressures, prices and the potential tax base," he said. "How and why do we stop people from developing their own land? This is America, by the way."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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