Watershed district gets break from city for its land purchase

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Shell Rock River Watershed District is one step closer to acquiring 50 acres of the former Albert Lea Country Club.

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday voted 6-1 to waive about $71,000 in outstanding city assessments plus interest against the property, which it will be purchasing from American Bank of St. Paul.

Vern Rasmussen

Vern Rasmussen

The closing date is slated for Friday.

Email newsletter signup

The bank has accepted a $290,000 offer on the property — known to many Albert Leans as the “front nine.” District officials hope to use the land as a staging area during the dredging of Fountain Lake and also hope to restore 16 acres of wetlands.

District Administrator Brett Behnke said the district is willing to get the property back to a good condition, and it doesn’t have any intentions of any immediate development.

The disputed assessments came from improvements to Richway Drive and Lakeview Boulevard. More than half of the money against the property came from interest costs.

The land had been in the hands of the bank after it was surrendered by commercial developer Scott LaFavre following the property’s foreclosure. At the time LaFavre owned the land, it was known as Eagle’s Rest development, though the development never came to fruition.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen asked for Behnke’s word that the land would be maintained and mowed, to which he replied in the affirmative.

Behnke and lawyer Matt Benda said officials are also willing to work with the city to find out what will be the best use for the property after the dredging is finished.

Fifth Ward Councilor Larry Anderson said the district has been a good partner in several projects in the past and has provided services that the city never had to pay for.

Brett Behnke

Brett Behnke

Benda said the district is not looking to make money off of the property and that if it does make any money from the sale of the property, it would go toward natural resources and water quality.

A few councilors brought up whether the council should simply defer the assessments until the property is sold to a developer or whether it should waive them altogether.

All but 1st Ward Councilor John Schulte V voted to waive the assessments and interest. He said he would have supported waiving the interest only and deferring the principal until the property was sold or a building permit was issued.

Look to the Tribune on Wednesday for more about the Monday meeting.