Klondike Drive in East Bethel east of Highway 65 is a dirt road that the city may pave at some point in the distant future. The city is doing its homework to see if it can obtain an easement from one property that is legally protected from development.
Current property owner Bill Gombald came to an agreement with the Minnesota Land Trust and the Anoka Conservation District in October 2010 to place a conservation easement on the 45-acre site that would protect the property from future development. He is now working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to sell the whole property, but the conservation easement remains on the property.
Klondike Drive runs along the south side of the property. East Bethel did not include this road in its recently approved 2013-2017 capital improvement plan, but City Administrator Jack Davis said that the road will be an important traffic connection in the future.
It already is being used as a detour route with Viking Boulevard being resurfaced between Highway 65 and Vickers Street. According to Davis, the western portion has increased its daily average traffic count from 395 vehicles to 1,500 vehicles while the eastern portion has increased from an average of 200 per day to 1,000 per day.
“I don’t think we’re looking to do this big development on Klondike, but the road is a travesty and at some point it’s going to have to be fixed,” Councilmember Robert DeRoche Jr. said.
The challenge is the conservation easement is very restrictive on what can happen with the property, according to Sarah Strommen, an associate director with the Minnesota Land Trust.
That is not to say getting the road right of way and drainage easement would be impossible, Strommen told the council.
If East Bethel files legal paperwork to go through condemnation proceedings or threatens land condemnation, then the property could be obtained, she said.
The city would still have to compensate the Minnesota Land Trust and the Anoka Conservation Easement for the lost property within the conservation easement, Strommen said.
Anoka County went through this process in Blaine when the widening of Radisson Road impacted a conservation easement, she said.
Davis told the Anoka County Union that the city would not begin any condemnation process until there is an actual project.
DNR buying land
The reason this was on the city’s radar, despite no immediate plans for a new road, is the DNR told the city of its intent to purchase the 45 acres from Gombald and include it in the conceptual Beaverbrook Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
A WMA is not a state park. Camping and picnic sites would not be allowed, according to Bryan Lueth, a DNR wildlife manager for the north metro. Only “wildlife oriented recreation” such as hunting and hiking on natural trails could happen on this property.
State statute requires the DNR to get county board approval when acquiring property for a WMA and the county wanted to first hear what East Bethel thought, Lueth said.
Strommen told the council that the Minnesota Land Trust supports the DNR purchasing the property from Gombald.
The city would still have to go through the same process with the Minnesota Land Trust to obtain road and drainage easements no matter who the property owner is, she said.
“If the property transfers from Mr. Gombald to the DNR the city is not missing some window of opportunity to make this happen,” Strommen said. “Our process is the same no matter who the owner is.”
Lueth said the Gombald property would be the DNR’s first land purchase for a Beaverbrook WMA that was put on paper over 30 years ago.
According to an East Bethel city staff report, the Beaverbrook Sportsman’s Club approached the DNR in the late 1970s with a proposal to sell or convey property. The DNR was intrigued and came up with a Beaverbrook WMA idea. However, no land was purchased.
Gombald’s property is outside the original Beaverbrook WMA target area, but the DNR plans to incorporate it within the WMA, Lueth said.
Becoming public land
Plans for this site have changed a few times over the last several years.
In November 2007, the council approved Gombald’s Mallard Marsh Estates development that would have been on the southern 10 acres along Klondike Drive and included five estate lots for future homes.
However, the city and Gombald were never able to get on the same page with regards to a trail easement that would have gone through the 10-acre portion.
When Gombald agreed to the conservation easement in late 2010 for all 45 acres, the public could not walk on the property without his permission because he maintained ownership. Once the DNR buys the property, it becomes public land.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org