Ramsey County, Arden Hills make rocky return to TCAAP bargaining table


file photo The 427-acre former site of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant might eventually become neighborhoods and businesses, though development plans have stalled.

Ramsey County proposed mediation sessions with Arden Hills over terms of the stalled development of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site.

The request came during the first meeting of the Joint Development Authority board in months after its members cancelled meetings over disagreements between the two government entities.

“We need to ensure that this level of investment is done right,” said Blake Huffman, Ramsey County commissioner and JDA board member. “Successful mediation may be the best way forward for this project, taxpayers and the region.”

The JDA board was set up as the public body responsible for the 427-acre TCAAP development, known as Rice Creek Commons. It’s made up of two Ramsey County commissioners and two Arden Hills City Council members, as well as a citizen chair appointed by the city.

Discussions at the Feb. 4 JDA meeting were at times tense and other times argumentative. The Arden Hills JDA members pushed back against the suggestion of mediation.

Arden Hills mayor and JDA member David Grant worried that mediation might add another process to an already stalled negotiation over development terms. He said that the city has already approved most parts of the development agreement. He and his city compatriot on the JDA board, city council member Brenda Holden, suggested setting another JDA meeting in mid-February to work out differences.

“There’s less incentive for you to come to an agreement if there’s mediation right around the corner,” Grant said.

The JDA set a meeting for Feb. 20 to iron out differences, though county staff members indicated that they’d still begin to set up mediation to expedite the process if needed. A complete list of disputed terms will be drawn up as well. 

 

Purse strings

In November, Ramsey County Manager Ryan O’Connor announced in a letter that they’d be pulling resources from the TCAAP development board. November and December JDA meetings were cancelled.

Arden Hills and Ramsey County were mostly at odds over housing density and how much money the city will put toward the development.

The Feb. 4 meeting showed that no progress had been made to resolve those differences. City members accused the county of dragging Arden Hills along through the development without enough participation. County commissioners met in a closed session on Jan. 22 to discuss the development.

“We weren’t included on any [master development agreement] negotiations until April of 2018,” Holden said. “So I get a little confused when you’re 100-percent dedicated now, but we’ve been kind of in the wayside all along.”

The meeting sputtered on nearly every agenda item. The JDA tried but couldn’t approve minutes from the Jan. 7 meeting because the county members didn’t show up for it. The group couldn’t renew a part of its insurance plan because no budget was in place for the JDA.

An attorney who advised the JDA during the meeting wasn’t under contract yet, because the previous contract for legal services expired and no budget was in place to renew it.

Ramsey County owns the former TCAAP site and has somewhere around $40 million invested already there. It has also funded the work of the JDA board. When things broke down last fall, the county pulled funding.

“We have not budgeted [for the JDA]. We are hopeful that if we can find resolution going forward, that will be budgeted,” said Kari Collins, county director of community and economic development.

It wasn’t made clear what threshold would need to be met to resume funding. It would come “once we’ve identified that we’re working toward a project,” Collins said.

It also isn’t clear whether or not mediation will take those development negotiations out of the public view, away from the JDA board meetings.

Sara Thatcher, a spokeswoman representing Ramsey County’s business with TCAAP, said that she didn’t have information about the public’s access to mediation.

Early grading work for the development project is supposed to begin this year.

 

–Matt Hudson can be reached at mhudson@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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