by Eric Hagen
The East Bethel City Council was not willing to vacate an undeveloped street for a residential septic system, but it would like city staff to work with the property owners to come up with a solution that will meet the residents’ needs as best as possible.
After listening to comments from an affected property owner and a couple of other residents during the public forum Dec. 21, the council on a 3-2 vote denied the vacation of Sylvan Street request. Mayor Richard Lawrence and Councilmembers Bill Boyer and Steve Voss voted in favor of the denial motion that Voss made, while Councilmembers Robert DeRoche, Jr. and Heidi Moegerle opposed the motion.
According to city staff, there are five platted but undeveloped city streets that connect East Front Boulevard to Coon Lake. Two of these streets provide storm water drainage for East Front Boulevard. The other three streets, including Sylvan Street, appear to serve no other purpose except for recreational access to the lake.
In fact, one of the petitioners requesting the street vacation said that he has mowed the Sylvan Street easement since he was a kid and he planted trees to beautify the property.
That resident — Andrew Nelson — had received a license from the city to utilize half of the right of way to remediate septic and well issues. According to Nelson, his neighbors Douglas and Linda Foster were given a notice last summer that their septic system was not compliant. The contractor they worked with said that part of Nelson’s property would need to be included in the septic area to meet septic and well setback laws.
This created a domino effect, Nelson said, because then a portion of another neighbor’s property owned by Richard Roback would have to be included. Between the Nelson and Roback properties is Sylvan Street.
City Attorney Mark Vierling said the city could not legally sell this platted street easement, so the residents petitioned for the street to be vacated.
Although he received a license from the city to use the part of the unplatted street land, Nelson said he was concerned that the city could request the system be moved at any time under the terms of the original license agreement that his attorney reviewed.
“With the way it’s written, there’s no security there, so I could put $20,000 into something that could be taken away in a month, a year or five years,” Nelson said.
Voss said he does not think anybody disagrees that there is no perceived use of this land, but he said there could be a use at some point.
“We don’t know what could come up,” Voss said. “There could be a public use for that land at some point.”
Resident Leon Mager said East Bethel and companion communities in the Sunrise Watershed Management Organization (WMO) designated $58,000 to be spent over the next four years on storm water controls for Coon Lake. Mager said the WMO does not currently know what property may need to be used for storm water controls.
City staff recommended tabling this item until no later than the April 4 council meeting so city staff could work with the affected property owners to explore options of property rights transfers, use or licensing.
Moegerle expressed an interest in tabling the Sylvan Street vacation request agenda item until April as staff had requested, but a majority of the council was not interested in vacating this undeveloped street no matter what.
Moegerle is aware that the city in 1985 signed a license agreement with a resident for a number of years on a septic system issue, she said.
“This is something I envision as something that would give you some sense of security, but would not relinquish the city’s interest…” Moegerle said.
Nelson said if there was a possibility for a license that would provide a lengthy term, he would be glad to look at that, but their preference was to vacate the land.
Boyer told Nelson that he would not want the city to give up the property.
“I can appreciate that, but it’s difficult for me to justify giving up…I mean 57 feet of lakefront is a valuable piece of property, and to give that up for nothing does not seem like I’m serving the greater residents of East Bethel,” Boyer said.
Doug Tierney, a resident who lives in the neighborhood, described how other accesses to the lake have been impeded by people putting their stuff there. He was concerned that the city giving away Sylvan Street could lead to another access being blocked, which he said would lead to more people going by his house on the other end of Coon Lake.
According to Tierney, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had recommended against the city vacating the land.
“Those were put in for public use and they should remain for public use,” Tierney said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org