Progress made on Watertown, NYA parcel acquisition

From left: Bob Frey, Norwood Young America citizen, Tina Diedrick, Mayor of Norwood Young America, Rep. Ernie Leidiger, Amy Mandt, Watertown citizen, Steve Washburn, Watertown City Council Member, and Mark Kaltsas, Watertown Interim City Administrator. (Submitted photo)

By Lorrie Ham

A pair of local residents testified at the State Capitol recently to support legislation that will allow the city of Watertown to acquire a tax-forfeited property on 30th Street to be used for nature and conservation purposes.
Watertown City Council Member Steve Washburn and Amy Mandt, a Watertown resident, joined State Representative Ernie Leidiger at a meeting of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy committee in March. Leidiger is the author of legislation that would allow the cities of Watertown and Norwood Young America to acquire tax-forfeited wetland and waterfront land parcels. Also testifying in the committee were Tina Diedrick, Mayor of Norwood Young America, and Bob Frey, a resident of Norwood Young America.
Properties in both Watertown and Norwood Young America are currently under the management of the Department of Natural Resources and are available for transfer to local cities at no cost to taxpayers. Leidiger explained that the land is classified as conservation property and therefore designated for parks, trails and recreational use.
“Each parcel is a great asset to the people of Watertown and Norwood Young America. With local control of these properties, residents, especially our youth, will be guaranteed greater access for a wide variety of uses — like hunting, fishing, and biking,” said Leidiger.
Leidiger’s bill, House File 3009, was rolled up into the omnibus lands bill. According to Leidiger, the omnibus bill is expected to be passed in April or May, with the governor’s signature expected soon after passage.
State Senator Julianne Ortman has also been supportive of the legislation. Senate File 2932 has also been included in a larger land and water bill.
“The hard part is done,” said Leidiger.
Earlier this year, the Watertown City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Carver County that defined both parties’ roles in the potential acquisition of the tax-forfeited property, as well as an adjacent property.
The city hopes to use part of the 45-acre property as a nature conservation area with trails for public use, and at first believed it could acquire the property through a conditional use deed. However, the council later learned that due to special circumstances of the property, the city first needed special legislation that would allow the state to convey the land to the city.
Even if the city is able to successfully acquire the property from the state, one of the key requirements in being able to utilize the property — which is tucked between Tuscany Village and the Wildflower Development — is the acquisition of property owned by Vern and Elaine Rosckes along County Road 10. The city recently obtained an agreement from the Rosckes family to purchase the property, a purchase that, based on the Memorandum of Understanding with Carver County, is expected to actually be funded by the County.
The Memorandum of Understanding calls for the County to reimburse the city $200,000 to acquire the property, pending the city’s ability to obtain the necessary legislation to acquire the neighboring tax-forfeited property. As part of the agreement, the city would deed the low area of the Rosckes’ property and the tax-forfeited property to the county. The county would convert the low area into wetlands, ultimately to be able to utilize the wetland credits it would receive.
The city would retain the upland portion of the tax forfeited property, roughly 15 acres. The county would also fund $100,000 toward Watertown’s development of trails and park space in the conservation area.
The agreement with the county is completely dependent on the passage of the pending   legislation at the state level.
“It is anticipated that the bill will be approved in this legislative session, which ends on May 19,” said Watertown City Administrator Mark Kaltsas. “Following approval of the bill, the city will move forward with the property acquisition.”