Lake Elmo has filed suit against a neighborhood association over the area’s trails, which city officials say should be open to the public.

The Hamlet on Sunfish Lake neighborhood of 41 homes, developed in 1997, includes a park and paved trails that are marked with at least one sign reading “No Trespassing/For Hamlet Residents Only.”

In the suit, filed in mid-April, the city points to a development agreement as evidence that the trails were intended to be public.

The issue emerged now, more than two decades after that agreement, when city officials looked at how to link trails from a new development going up east of the neighborhood.

“For over a year, we’ve had conversations with the [Hamlet] homeowner’s association about trail connectivity between the two neighborhoods,” said City Administrator Kristina Handt. “After months without response, we felt we didn’t have any other option than filing the lawsuit.”

Lake Elmo wants the court to declare the Hamlet trails public and order the “No Trespassing” sign removed.

“The city doesn’t want to have to be in a position to sue its residents,” Handt said. “This isn’t something we rush toward.”

The board of the homeowner’s association, which has until May 20 to respond to the suit, met Wednesday night to discuss the issue. Bobbi Olson, the association’s president, said the group was “shocked” by the lawsuit and felt the issue goes back to negligence on the developers’ part, not the homeowners.

Members of the association pay fees for the neighborhood’s maintenance, including the trails.

“After 22 years, it’s pretty hard to give up what you’ve worked hard to maintain,” Olson said. “It’s been really emotional.”

The city’s complaint alleges that members of the association have approached people using the trails and told them they aren’t public.

“We heard stories of people getting chased off the trails, and that’s when we had to assert our rights,” Handt said. “Every development has to contribute one way or another to park dedication.”

Olson said Hamlet’s residents are “gracious to our neighbors” but concerned about how many more people from surrounding developments might use the trails if they were to become public. That would raise safety and maintenance concerns, she said.

Handt said similar issues arose at the adjacent Tapestry at Charlotte’s Grove development, to the west of Hamlet. That neighborhood also has private trails but has opened a segment of them for public use.

Olson said she hoped the association and the city can come to an agreement. “There’s always a way to work something out,” she said.