Million-dollar parcel adds oomph to future park in Scott County

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2013 - 1:33 PM

A planned Scott County regional park has about 500 acres so far, and another 148 acres from a failed development could be coming.

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St. Catherine Lake in Scott County is within the boundaries of Doyle-Kennefick Park and not far from a major new parcel the county hopes to add.

Photo: David Peterson , Star Tribune

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As pickup trucks roar past far above, raising trails of dust on a hot summer day, a gorgeous little sun-dappled creek ­trickles across the midsection of Scott County. Branches stretch leaves languidly across the water, offering shade.

And you’d never know any of it without stopping and climbing down treacherous banks.

But Porter Creek is one important feature of what promises to be a major new addition to the metro area’s stock of regional parks. It meanders across a 148-acre parcel of land worth $1.3 million, the biggest addition to the proposed Doyle-Kennefick Regional Park in nearly a decade.

Land nearby is still obsessively posted as private every few feet along the road. And the park-in-waiting is still so obscure that the chairman of a key Metropolitan Council committee last week admitted he probably “murdered” its pronunciation, saying something that sounded like “Kid flick.” The council staffer presenting the county’s request admitted she had no idea what road access exists to the property, seeing as she’s never actually been there.

Mark Themig, the county’s parks manager, can shrug all that off with a smile, considering that outside funds from sources like the Met Council are expected to cover the vast majority of the cost of a park that will be for everyone’s use but that sits in his own constituents’ back yard.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” he said, “and it looks like we have strong support in acquiring it. The committee was unanimous last week, and in my experience that’s a good sign for full council approval.”

That approval is expected on Wednesday.

It certainly didn’t draw the puzzled reaction that a Dakota County proposal did a few moments later when the county put in a request for hundreds of thousands of dollars to — apparently, judging from maps — mostly just buy a bunch of land covered in water.

Development nearby

The land pickup comes thanks in part to the housing bust, which landed these and other nearby acres in the hands of a lender, Premier Bank.

Bank officials did not respond to a request for comment, but they reportedly are trying to revive a failed residential development called St. Catherine on the Lake.

Buyers of the property would have the bonus of having permanent public parkland nearby. Officials of Cedar Lake Township, south of Prior Lake, are more wary, as once-taxable land passes into public hands.

“They’re very concerned about the impact of additional parkland moving from taxable to exempt,” Themig said. “That’s why in the development master plan for the park, we work hard to retain the buildable portion of the property.”

Cedar Lake isn’t the only township concerned.

With public agencies actively working with property owners to acquire land near the Minnesota River south of Belle Plaine to create another regional park, Blakeley Bluffs, a supervisor from that town board turned up at a Met Council workshop not long ago to express concern that the public has its eyes on some of the most gorgeous and potentially valuable rural land.

“That’s tax base for us,” John Busse said. “I’m concerned about agricultural preservation.”

The environmental side of it, though, Themig said, is that in both park areas, erosion from hilly farmland is hurting water quality. And he has tried, he said, to make the point that for some time to come, townships will actually experience a bump in tax value as land changes hands.

“Blakeley’s development as a park happens over 25 to 50 years,” he said, “so it will be many years before they’re converted to public use. For 10 years, property taxes actually increase, as land that has been homesteaded transitions to where it’s being rented out under our stewardship. We cover those taxes.”

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