Plan threatens rare and valuable nature

Roseville's Langton Lake Park is a beautiful spot of surprising peace and quiet only a stone's throw from Interstate Hwy. 35W. Walking through the park on a recent evening, I heard an owl hoot in the snowy dusk from somewhere near the path. Henry David Thoreau wrote of the hooting of owls at Walden Pond: "It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized."

To borrow Thoreau's words, Langton Lake Park is a rare example of "undeveloped nature" rapidly disappearing in our urban environment. A stroll around the lake is a genuine walk in the woods, even though the south end of the park is bordered by trucking yards and loading docks, now visible through the bare winter trees.

Sadly, the park's remarkable tranquility and seclusion is threatened by a proposed redevelopment including a big-box retail and shopping center just south of the lake. A new parkway drawing retail traffic directly off I-35W will skirt the edge of the narrow wooded buffer that currently protects the park. New three- and four-story condos will overlook the shore of Langton Lake.

If the developers' plans become reality, Langton Lake Park will never be the same again. Originally donated as a wildlife refuge, the park provides home and shelter to more than 150 species of birds and animals. The only recorded sighting of a yellow-throated warbler in Minnesota was in the park's woods, and bald eagles have recently been seen near the lake.

As a unique natural space and wildlife sanctuary, Langton Lake Park is a precious community asset. It is not only valuable for people and wildlife but also immeasurably valuable in itself -- an irreplaceable piece of undeveloped nature in a first-ring suburb. It would be a very great shame to sacrifice such a priceless natural resource for more big retail sprawl and all of the giant asphalt parking lots, traffic congestion and air, noise and light pollution that go with it.

The future of Langton Lake Park is only one of many environmental issues the Roseville City Council must deal with in considering the developers' proposal. TCE, a known carcinogen, has been discovered in area groundwater. Further testing is needed to determine the source and extent of the contamination, to evaluate any possible public health risks and develop strategies for cleanup. And unsupportable levels of traffic generated by the retail center will pose serious problems for nearby neighborhoods.

Roseville's city government has a moral obligation to protect our neighborhood and natural environments. This is a golden opportunity for exercising some vision and common-sense planning. Roseville already has 82 square feet of retail per resident, more than four times the Twin Cities metro-area average. The last thing Roseville needs is another new shopping center -- not to mention that the developers are asking for more than $40 million in public subsidies to build it.

The city needs to face the fact that the costs and adverse environmental effects of a big-box retail center can't be justified. A sustainable redevelopment plan with less environmental impact -- on traffic in neighborhoods, on wildlife habitats and on the quiet beauty of Langton Lake Park -- is what's needed in the Twin Lakes area.

The Twin Lakes redevelopment will be a clear test of Roseville's commitment to careful environmental stewardship, neighborhood quality of life and community values. The city should not miss this chance to preserve Langton Lake Park and make it an even more valuable public asset. Instead of allowing developers to turn the park and lake into "amenities" for their new shopping center, why not insist on a plan that adds parkland and greenspace to protect the park's fragile wildlife habitats? Otherwise, a precious piece of natural space will be lost forever.

Amy Ihlan is a Roseville City Council member. She is teaching environmental ethics as a visiting professor in the philosophy department at Macalester College this semester.

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