Ramsey County absent from May TCAAP meeting

County moving forward with legal action, Rice Creek Commons infrastructure

Ramsey County representatives were absent from the most recent Joint Development Authority Board meeting, which took place May 6 in Arden Hills. Lacking the necessary number of members, the session was cancelled after a five-minute waiting period. 

The Joint Development Authority, or JDA, came into being in early 2013; consisting of two members of the Arden Hills City Council and two Ramsey County Commissioners, as well as an appointed Arden Hills resident, its job is to guide the redevelopment of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site.

While the county owns the 427-acre plot, the site, dubbed the Rice Creek Commons and located just east of Interstate 35W, is in Arden Hills. 

Relations between the two parties have soured since last fall, when the county requested more housing density while the city wanted to move ahead with a redevelopment plan that both parties agreed to in 2016. 

The county has not attended a JDA meeting since February and, in March, requested that the Joint Powers Agreement, which called for the existence of the development authority, be dissolved.

The city’s attorney said in a response to the county that negotiations so far had been unsubstantial, and that the city wanted to meet face to face to discuss terms. He worried that the time it would take to dissolve the Joint Powers Agreement would further delay the project, writing, “the City prefers to see if we could get the actual redevelopment started, knowing that it will almost certainly evolve substantially over time.”

Unsatisfied with this response, the county passed a resolution directing staff to look into any possible legal options that would allow it to dissolve the JDA and move forward with the development. 

According to the resolution, passed on April 2, “Such actions would allow the project to proceed in a more traditional process with Ramsey County as the landowner and Arden Hills as the reviewing authority.”

Commissioner Rafael Ortega, vice chair of the JDA, estimated that the county would finish submitting its legal filings sometime during the week of May 13.

“I’m hoping that a judge will tell both of us, ‘I want you to go to mediation first,’” he said in an interview. 

According to the county, land sale negotiations between itself and the developer, Alatus, LLC, are on hold pending action regarding the JDA. However, the county has added the spine road — the major artery that will run through Rice Creek Commons — to its Transportation Improvement Plan for 2019 and has appropriated roughly $11.5 million for road construction. 

“The spine road is the last important piece of the infrastructure,” said Ortega. “I suspect that we’ll be doing that this summer.”

Brenda Holden, a member of the Arden Hills City Council and a city representative on the JDA, expressed doubt about the pending roadwork while waiting for commissioners to show up at the most recent authority meeting.

“I really think that they’re not ready to move forward and that they’re using the city as their gambit,” she said.

The resignation of Commissioner Blake Huffman — whose district includes Arden Hills and who sat on the JDA — throws another element into the mix. According to the county, Huffman’s replacement will be appointed to the JDA at the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners meeting on May 14, after deadline for this edition of the paper.

Huffman’s resignation is effective June 1, after which a special election will be held to fill the remainder of his term.

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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