In the heart of one of the Twin Cities’ most densely developed areas lies a 15-acre parcel of wild land straddling the border of Edina and St. Louis Park.
It’s a rugged green space, simple and unmanicured. Narrow footpaths plunge into brambly ravines, then open onto shaded spaces between mature oaks and cottonwoods. Local residents use it for walking dogs, building tree forts, riding dirt bikes — and, legend has it, occasionally growing pot.
But this patch of woods could someday be the site of new luxury homes, because its owner wants to sell. And who’s the owner of this potentially valuable property? The city of Minneapolis, which has owned the piece of its neighboring cities since the 1920s and is hoping to get at least $1.5 million for the acreage.
Minneapolis acquired the land as part of its water system. A small, brick pumping station on the site is visible at 40th Street W. and France Avenue S. But the city no longer needs that pumping station, officials say, and thus has no need to own the land inside other cities’ borders.
Minneapolis recently sent a politely worded letter to the mayors of St. Louis Park and Edina, giving them until Nov. 14 to make a written offer on the parcel at fair-market value. If no offer is made, Minneapolis plans to put the property up for bid.
“If St. Louis Park and Edina pass this up, I think the city of Minneapolis would garner a much larger price” through a bid process, said Minneapolis Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents the 13th Ward — located across France Avenue from the woods. The city commissioned a survey that placed the value of the property at roughly $1.5 million, she said, based on development of single-family homes on one-acre lots.
Minneapolis wouldn’t mind getting the money — and also removing itself from liability issues like the one faced by Eden Prairie, where the family of a woman killed by a falling tree is suing the city.
“The city’s position on this is, ‘This land is your land,’ ” Palmisano said. “So our first prudent method of removing this asset — and also liability — is to offer it to those other municipalities, in a friendly, city-to-city relationship.”
But the other cities don’t appear ready to accept the value Minneapolis places on the woodsy plot. Parts of the parcel are low-lying and swampy, and others are steeply sloping. Tom Harmening, city manager of St. Louis Park, said Minneapolis is being too optimistic about how much of the plot is developable.
“How we look at it is different from what they might perceive it to be,” Harmening said. “If I own a piece of property, I obviously think it has attributes that I would see, and the buyer might see it differently. You work out those differences of opinion.”
Scott Neal, Edina’s city manager, was more blunt. Edina’s City Council hasn’t formally addressed the issue and Neal said he can’t speak for its members. But in the opinion of the city’s professional staff, he said, “We don’t think we should have to pay anything for it.”
Todd White, who lives in Edina’s Morningside neighborhood, has been taking his dogs for runs in the woods for nearly 25 years. Tossing a tennis ball to his yellow lab, Charlie, on a recent morning, White said the loss of the woods would be tough on residents of all three cities.
“They came in last year with their survey sticks and everyone freaked out,” White said. “It was like, ‘We’re going to lose our paradise.’ ”