Riverfront site can’t find potential owner

Agencies agree property needs protecting, none want to own it

Washington County officials have a quandary. The owner of 16 acres of St. Croix River front property between Minnesota Highway 95 and the old Minnesota Zephyr depot that includes 4,000 feet of shoreline wants to sell the site to preserve the land.

Several federal, state and regional agencies support the idea, but none will commit to owning and managing the property and city of Stillwater officials have taken no stance on the idea.

The situation leaves the County Board of Commissioners considering how to proceed if it wants to include buying the Aiple property as part of it Land and Water Legacy Program in 2013.

Commissioners and county staff discussed the Aiple proposal and several other proposed LWLP projects at a workshop Thursday afternoon. Two other LWLP projects were located at separate Denmark Township sites.

County Planner Jane Harper told commissioners an attorney representing the property owner contacted county officials about buying the site.

“Mrs. Aiple informed the county that she is willing to sell the land,” Harper said. The land has an estimated $1.056 million market value, with the land worth $725,600 and the home on the property work more than $331,000.

Harper added that county officials and commissioners face two questions — what are likely funding sources to buy the site and who would own the land?

The National Park Service supports the project, but can’t acquire the land because it is outside the St. Croix River’s Scenic Waterway boundary, Harper said. The state Department of Natural Resources feels the site is too small and manicured for a state park and is not needed for either the Brown’s Creek Trail or a water access site, she added.

The Metropolitan Council feels the property is a better fit for a local park, but Stillwater city officials have not taken an official position on the purchase, Harper said. City staff is concerned about the city’s ability to assume the long-term commitment of managing the site, she added.

“None of the agencies I spoke to wanted to own and manage the property,” she said. “We have talked with the city of Stillwater and they haven’t committed (buying) the property.”

Harper said in a memo that commissioners face three key questions about the Aiple proposal. They are:

Is the board willing to work with Stillwater city officials to develop viable options and possible funding sources to buy and manage the site for public use?

Is the board interested in using LWLP funds on an appraisal of the property to determine its fair-market value?

Would the board consider using LWLP funds to buy part or all the property?

Harper said potential funding sources to buy the Aiple site include the county’s LWLP fund; the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council; city of Stillwater; private contributions, and DNR grant programs.

“They do have a price that’s significantly higher (than the market value),” Harper said. “We’re at a point of, what’s the price?

“Are you willing, as a board to put some land and water legacy money up for the appraisal,” added Assistant County Adminstrator Kevin Corbid.

Harper said the two Denmark Township projects are:

The Keegan conservation easement. Harper said the county would buy a conservation easement over 143 acres of mixed agriculture land at County Road 21 and 110th Street between St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and the Lost Prairie Scientific and Natural Area.

“The Keegan property is going to be actively farmed,” she said. “I have talked to them about possible public access. This is going to be vegetable farming for local food.”

Harper stressed that the vegetables grown at the Keegan site would not be row crops and a site plan would be developed to control water runoff.

Buying a conservation easement over 756 acres off wooded bluff land and upland that includes 3,000 feet of St. Croix River shoreline in the Carpenter Foundation property. The site is along County Road 21 between Point Douglas County and St. Croix Bluffs Regional parks.

Harper said the project would protect St. Croix River water quality, provide a continuous ecological corridor along the lower St. Croix and preserves scenic river vistas. The site would have public access.

“For Carpenter, their property is open seven days a week for public access. Now they allow dogs to use their trails,” she said.