Selling ’54 building presents problems

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

Selling the 1954 building of the courthouse is legally difficult, and such a sale would probably land the county in court, County Attorney Craig Nelson’s research on Minnesota Supreme Court rulings indidates.

A proposal to buy the building was made by retired Realtor Howard Jensen. He alleges that there is an individual, whose identity he won’t disclose, who would pay

$150,000 for the building, which the county board has voted to tear down. That individual intends to convert it to office space for private business, according to Jensen. The proposal is on the agenda for the board meeting Tuesday.

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But, Nelson’s research indicates it’s unlikely the county could accept the plan, whether it would like to or not.

The opinions, one in 1949 and the other in 1961, clearly state that once land is designated for the public use, the local governing body can use that property only for purposes consistent with the dedication.

The 1949 case was filed by residents in Northfield who contested the city’s effort to transform a city park into a high school playground and athletic field. The land was platted as a public square for public use.

The Supreme Court reversed the Rice County court’s decision to deny a motion for a temporary injunction to restrain the city from proceeding with the project.

&uot;Use of the public square for a high school athletic field and playground would be a public use, but one not only different in kind from use as a public square, but positively inconsistent therewith and destructive thereof and consequently unlawful,&uot; the opinion states. &uot;The authorities hold that it is a diversion from the uses intended by the dedicator, and consequently illegal.&uot;

&uot;Authorization of the changed use by the city council does not make it lawful. Use of property for purposes other than those for which it was dedicated cannot be authorized by ordinance, or even by statute.&uot;

The 1961 case was regarding a municipal liquor shop planned on a lot where the city government building stood.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Scott County court’s ruling that recognized the liquor shop as a proper government function. The arguments there were also based on the idea that no deviation from an originally intended use should be permitted.

The original plat of the Village of Albert Lea dated February 24, 1859, designated a block surrounded by Broadway, College Street, Newton Street and Pearl Street as &uot;Court Square.&uot;

In the two past cases, the court classified the types of dedication to one given by statute and the other by common law. And the court concluded that even without a restriction on the usage for the dedicated public land, long acquiescence in the use of property by the public would establish the intent to dedicate and acceptance by the public, which is effective as a common-law dedication.

&uot;The cases show that it is pretty hard to transfer the land to a private entity,&uot; County Attorney Craig Nelson said. &uot;This block is platted and dedicated for specific and concrete purpose as the courthouse. It has been used as such for long time and it will be.&uot;

&uot;The court can change the designation only when it recognizes there is no public utility left in the land. And this is not the case,&uot; he said.