Last minute requests throw wrench into Inver Grove Heights development plans

An item that was supposed to be summarily approved turned into a lengthy discussion for the Inver Grove Heights City Council at its June 26 meeting.

A resolution to approve a development contract, a storm water maintenance agreement and related agreements for the plat of Robert Curve was on the council’s consent agenda, but City Attorney Tim Kuntz pulled the item due to some last minute requirements from the Minnesota Department of Transportation regarding traffic signals near the development.
 

Surprise requirements

On June 12, the council approved a series of requests for a development to be known as Robert Curve on the east side of state Highway 3 at Diffley Road.

Allan Hunting, city planner, explained the council was looking at the first phase of a roughly 28,000-square-foot multi-use residential and retail building. 

The developer planned to dedicate the main entrance off Highway 3 as a public street, and the proposed plat provides for the appropriate right-of-way for a public road. Hunting said city staff was concerned because there aren’t any other access points.

“This would be the only access — you typically see that as a private road, as opposed to public,” Hunting said.  

At the June 26 meeting, Kuntz said the city and developer had met on June 13, and one of the questions brought up was if there were any traffic improvements on Highway 3 or Diffley Road that would need to be added into the development agreement. 

“The answer was ‘no’ by the developer, and that’s what the developer believed at that time,” Kuntz said. 

The documents before the council on June 26 were drafted with no signal nor traffic improvements in mind. However, on June 23, MnDOT delivered a letter to the city that said it would require certain traffic improvements for the development to move forward.

Kuntz said the letter required a right turn lane to be constructed on Diffley Road that would allow for cars coming from the west to make a right turn on to Highway 3. 

The letter also said the traffic signals at the intersection needed to be upgraded and modified, mostly to include a flashing yellow turn arrow. 

Kuntz explained that MnDOT sees the development as essentially building the fourth leg of the intersection at Diffley and Highway 3; currently, Diffley Road ends when it meets the highway.

MnDOT is able to bring in the requirements because it’s responsible for Highway 3, a state road.

“As you might imagine, this comes as a surprise because the components that MnDOT is suggesting are bigger than a bread basket,” Kuntz said.

In light of the MnDOT requirements, he said the council needed to figure out how to proceed. Kuntz pointed out that if MnDOT holds tight to the requirements, the developer would likely be responsible for paying for the work

 

Development in jeopardy

Public Works Director Scott Thureen said he called the city’s point person at MnDOT and others to get more information about the requirements and hadn’t heard back prior the council meeting. He said city staff continues to seek more information.

Attorney Vance Grannis was there representing the developer, Excel Development, LLC. He said he thinks MnDOT is requiring the signal improvements because it changed its standards. He said the whole signal system would have to be moved to meet MnDOT requirements and it would be a costly problem for the developer.

“I’m not saying this as a threat,” Grannis said, “I’m saying it as a reality that if that [doesn’t change] as of now there will be no development.”

He said the city needs to tell MnDOT as strongly as possible it is not reasonable and fair to make the small development pay for signal upgrades.

Grannis said the council needed to act that night because if it were successful in getting MnDOT to change its mind, the developer wouldn’t have to come back before the council.

Mayor George Tourville said if MnDOT said the requirements are for safety, it becomes a non-argument. He added that there are other developments along Robert Street where the city required the developer to pay for all things MnDOT asked for.

Council member Rosemary Piekarski Krech said she thinks it’s unfair of MnDOT, at this point, to come through with these requirements.

“That intersection is working. We’re not creating the problem, and at this point there is not a problem with the intersection,” she said, adding if it was about safety, MnDOT should have already done something about it. 

Tourville said the city needs to take the position that it won’t participate but will help with negotiations. MnDOT and the developer would need to come to an agreement about payment.

Kuntz suggested inserting language into the developers agreement that says if MnDOT persists, then the requirements should be met and paid for by the developer at its sole expense. Another addition would be that the city would take reasonable steps to communicate to MnDOT the city’s desire for MnDOT to withdraw the requirements.

In the end, the council approved the documents including the development agreement, with the new conditions.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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