In a vote that will likely mean the end of a lengthy court battle between the city of Eagan and a developer, Eagan residents in November will decide whether to pay $10.25 million to buy the former Carriage Hills Golf Course.

The golf course has been the subject of a contentious court case filed in 2004 by developer Wensmann Realty, which wants to build houses on the land, against the city, which has fought to preserve the course as green space.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Eagan City Council approved a contingent settlement that will allow voters to choose between buying the land to preserve it and letting the land be developed.

"It puts the final decision in the hands of the voters," Council Member Paul Bakken said Wednesday. "I think that's a step in the right direction."

In the past 15 years, according to Mayor Mike Maguire, Eagan has matured from a growing community to one that has largely filled out and has fewer options in terms of preserving open spaces. That transition, he said, is why the Carriage Hills case came to the forefront so quickly.

"We're a community that cares about natural resources," he said.

Development specifics

If Eagan residents vote to maintain the land as open space, the city will pay $10 million for the 120-acre site, plus about $250,000 in bond fees and other expenses. But even before the November election, the city will start the review process and hold public hearings in May and June on a Wensmann proposal for homes that could be built if voters nix the offer.

On Wednesday, Maguire declined to lay out how the $10.25 million figure was reached, just that it was the product of negotiations. That's an average of about $85,400 an acre.

Wensmann has until April 16 to submit a formal development application, but the settlement outlines:

• A mix of 450 to 480 single-family homes, row houses and senior housing on 90 acres of the golf course.

• 30 acres of green space throughout the development, with buffers between nearby neighborhoods.

• An east-west street connection between Wescott Woodlands and Duckwood Drive, rather than a north-south connection to the Greensboro or Wescott Hills neighborhoods.

Maguire said that in order to stick to the terms of the agreement, the city needs to approve the development plan, contingent on the referendum failing, by June 20.

Terry Wensmann, the developer, and his attorney did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

The city still has the right to approve or deny Wensmann's proposal, but if voters approve the referendum, development plans would not proceed. If the referendum fails and the city blocks development, the case probably will go back to court.

The case, which went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, had been sent back to district court last year. It was scheduled for trial in June before the city, golf course owner Ray Rahn and Wensmann hashed out the agreement in 11 hours of court-ordered mediation on Friday.

Baffled by the valuation

Dan Bailey, a neighbor of the golf course who has long opposed its development, wonders how the land came to be valued at $10 million. He thinks the price will prevent Eagan voters from protecting the site, which is no longer an operating golf course.

Bailey thinks he'll probably vote against the referendum, so community members can once again persuade the City Council to turn down the development and go back to court.

"The deal is great in the sense that the people get to make the choice," Bailey said, "but it's bad in that both choices are bad for the people."

Bakken was careful not to say whether he'll support the referendum.

"Carriage Hills has become a flashpoint for the pressures that a community of Eagan's age and stage of development finds itself in," he said. "That puts our community in the position of trying to decide, as a community, what do we want Eagan to look like." • 952-882-9016 • 952-882-9056