Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Road Rage

Eagan Resident has to pay $77,000 for a Road that goes Nowhere

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

by Meggen Lindsay

John Cina didn't want a road built past his land to the site of a proposed orphanage in Eagan. He didn't want the new utilities. The city told him to pay $77,000 anyway.BY MEGGEN LINDSAYPioneer PressRetiree John Cina has to fork over $77,000 for a road leading to nowhere in front of his Eagan hobby farm.

His tab from the city also includes sewer and water line extensions he never plans to use. The road and utility improvements start at Cina's land and stretch to a vacant 36-acre lot where Mary Jo Copeland long has planned to build a controversial orphanage campus. The City Council approved the new infrastructure for the Gift of Mary site along Minnesota 55 in northeast Eagan four years ago. Cina has protested the move since then because he already had road access to his property and says he is fine using his well water and septic system.

The council approved charging Cina, 67, for the road and utilities last week. "What hurts me the most is that I have to pay for a road that's serving another property," he said. "I mean, I'm footing the bill for a road I don't use." It's a frontage road nobody is using -- at least for now.

Copeland hasn't come close to raising enough money to build the private school and residences that would house up to 200 children. She's banked less than $2 million for the $30 million development, she said.

"The need is still there, though," said Copeland, founder of the Catholic nonprofit Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis. "If God wants it, he'll build it. There's a lot of money out there."

The road and utility installations were finished in 2004 at a cost of more than $500,000. The city picked up $364,000 and Copeland was assessed $66,000. Cina owes a total of $77,000. The paved frontage road dead-ends into Copeland's property, and a sign tells drivers that a future through street is planned. A small blue billboard propped in the center of the rural property reads "Future Site -- Gift of Mary Children's Home."

The charges for the work will show up as special assessments on Cina's property tax bills over 15 years. He will be charged interest at 4.5 percent, which tacks on thousands of dollars annually. His first year's installment is $11,215.81.

However, Cina can use what the City Council is calling its senior citizens' discount to defer all payments until he sells the property. Interest would still accrue during the deferment period.

He's still deciding whether he wants to appeal the assessment to Dakota County or just "bite the bullet" and defer the payments.

"Life isn't easy, is it?" he asked. "It's bothersome to be retired, have paid your way and not owe anything and then have this happen."

But city staff and council members point out the utilities and road raise the value of his 11 acres by $148,000 if he sells, from $1,019,000 to $1,167,000. That's according to an outside appraisal the city had done after Cina protested at a public hearing in 2004.

The city also paid him $50,000 for land it took from him to construct the road.

"He doesn't feel this work improved his property, but it did. If and when he develops, this will be very beneficial," Council Member Cyndee Fields said. "He will never have to pay until he decides to develop. That's not a burden to anybody."

But Cina said he's paid close to $10,000 in legal fees to fight the assessments, and he doesn't want to have to sell his property.

Cina and his son live on two houses on the land that he said he purchased for $140,000 some 15 years ago. A retired electrical teacher with the state's technical college system, he lives modestly on his pension of about $2,000 a month.

"So I've wound up being in a little bit of a bind. It's a rural heaven here, and I don't want to sell it," he said.

Similar assessments are not unheard of elsewhere as development encroaches into rural areas that lack city sewer and water. Eagan officials say the road and utility hook-ups were always planned for the area, but acknowledge that Copeland's request sped up the process.

Cina wishes the whole project wouldn't have been finalized so quickly, especially because it is unclear whether Copeland will ever get the money to build her children's home. If she does not apply for a building permit by June 2007, her zoning comes up for review and the City Council could vote to extend the deadline or revert the land's use back to agriculture, which would stop the project. Copeland bought the land, bounded by Lone Oak Road, Minnesota 55 and the Inver Grove Heights border, in 2002 after a number of other suburbs denied her plans.

Eagan's former mayor, Patricia Anderson, led the council's effort to bring in the controversial development. Despite her success with a three-building complex for homeless and poor people in Minneapolis, critics have questioned the need for what they call a modern-day orphanage.

Gift of Mary (named for the Virgin Mother, not for Copeland) is to be a children's home campus, replete with 20 cottage-style homes and outdoor recreational facilities.

Copeland spent between $3 million and $4.5 million to buy the land and pay for architectural designs, but has said she needs to raise $30 million to build the center and another $30 million in an endowment to run the children's home.

Copeland is sorry about Cina's predicament, she said, but there's little she can do about it. "He'll make a bundle when he sells," she said. "He got that land for next to nothing."

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