Two lawsuits, same result
Judges side with city, developer in Twin Lakes cases
Roseville Review 4/4/06
Jon Lentz, news editor

Two separate court rulings relating to the Twin Lakes redevelopment project — one about environmental concerns, the other dealing with eminent domain — came down in favor of the city of Roseville and the project developer last week.

On March 27, a Ramsey County judge ruled that the citizens group Friends of Twin Lakes failed to show that the Roseville project would cause pollution and destruction of a natural resource under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.

Days earlier on March 24, a federal judge dismissed on a procedural issue the lawsuit brought by Minnesota Industrial Ventures, an asset management firm that owns property in the redevelopment area. The firm had argued that its business had suffered from the threat of possible condemnation through eminent domain and that the city’s potential share of profits served an improper private purpose.

“I’m extremely pleased with it,” Roseville Council Member Dean Maschka said of the Friends of Twin Lakes decision. “That’s what I expected. If you read the case, I think the judge thought this was pretty frivolous. ... The other one was thrown out of federal court. We’re pleased at the outcome on both of those.”

Neither decision is necessarily the final word as either one could be appealed. The Minnesota Industrial Ventures lawsuit, which was dismissed because the firm hadn’t first exhausted the state’s condemnation proceedings, could be taken up in state court as well.

Two other counts of the Friends of Twin Lakes lawsuit dismissed in August are currently on appeal, with arguments to begin this month.

“To the extent that I’m a firm opponent of the project on environmental grounds, I’m disappointed with the (Friends of Twin Lakes) decision in the trial court,” Council Member Amy Ihlan said. “There still remain controversial legal issues that the courts are in the process of resolving. These will need to be ironed out before the project moves forward.”

The city has spent more than $100,000 so far in legal fees for the two court cases.

The entire Twin Lakes site, which includes a number of old trucking companies, encompasses 280 acres near Langton Lake in northwest Roseville. The city has contracted with the Rottlund Company and Rottlund Homes to redevelop the area.

Razing and site grading is scheduled to begin next month on the approved first phase of the project, which includes 77 acres of land bordered by County Road C, County Road C2, and Cleveland and Fairview avenues. After clearing the land, developers will build more than 700 housing units and restaurant, commercial and retail space, including a “big-box” retail store (possibly a Costco).

Friends of Twin Lakes
In January 2005, the Friends of Twin Lakes sued the city  and master developer Rottlund Homes in Ramsey County District Court. The lawsuit alleged the project violated state environmental laws, required further environmental study and was inconsistent with Roseville’s comprehensive plan.

In August, a Ramsey County judge refused to halt the project and denied a request by the Friends of Twin Lakes for more environmental study. Only the portion of the lawsuit relating to the Minnesota’s Environmental Rights Act (MERA) was allowed to proceed.

On March 27, Ramsey County District Court Judge Marybeth Dorn ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the planned redevelopment of the area would adversely affect quietude in the area and cause pollution, impairment or destruction of natural resources.

Thad Lightfoot, the attorney for Friends of Twin Lakes, was out of town last week and declined to comment since he had not reviewed the ruling.

“I’m disappointed obviously,” said Tam McGehee, who testified on behalf of Friends of Twin Lakes at the trial. According to McGehee, the plaintiffs had difficulty quantifying the environmental effect the project would have on noise levels, light pollution and other harm to the wildlife.

“It’s not really a quantifiable issue,” McGehee said. “To me, that’s too bad.”

“We are happy to have prevailed in the lawsuit because we strongly believe that the cleanup of the pollution and the redevelopment of the Twin Lakes area are important to Roseville and its residents,” said Rottlund president Todd Stutz in a written statement. “Hopefully, litigation is now behind us and we can move forward, working together, for the betterment of our city.”

Minnesota Industrial Ventures
In October, Minnesota Industrial Ventures filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city and Roseville Twin Lakes, a partnership between Rottlund and two other companies.

The suit alleged that the potential use of eminent domain had created a “cloud of condemnation” diminishing the value and marketability of the firm’s properties as part of a scheme to minimize the price the redeveloper would have to pay to acquire the property.

Minnesota Industrial Ventures owns several parcels in the Twin Lakes area, including the Northco property in the first phase of the project. Northco includes three properties on Fairview Avenue near Terrace Drive.

The suit sought to prevent the sale of land owned by Minnesota Industrial Ventures and to keep it out of the designated redevelopment area.

On March 24, U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle dismissed the federal claims but left open the possibility of the matter being taken up in state court.

Attorneys for Minnesota Industrial Ventures were not available for comment prior to press time.

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