Homeowners on the south side of a street in Stillwater, Minn. are being assessed for its reconstruction, but Stillwater CC, which owns the land north of the two-block stretch that is being redone, is not, because city officials were advised by an appraiser that the club would not receive any benefit from the roadwork. Residents disagree, calling the street “a thoroughfare for members”; the city’s mayor also said he was surprised by the decision, feeling the club will gain value from the project.
Residents who live on the south side of West Moore Street in Stillwater, Minn. want to know why their neighbor to the north, the Stillwater Country Club, isn’t being assessed for the street’s reconstruction, the Saint Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported.
Gwynne Fransen and her neighbor, Carol Gapen, will be assessed $7,582, the Pioneer Press reported, and Wendy Adams, who lives on the corner of Moore and Martha Street, said she must pay $3,791 and then will be assessed again when Martha Street is also redone, the Pioneer Press reported.
But the country club, which owns the land north of the two-block stretch of West Moore, is not being assessed at all, the Pioneer Press reported
Fransen, Gapen and Adams say that is unfair, because country club employees and members regularly use the street, the Pioneer Press reported.
“They’re got sod trucks, foodservice trucks, members all using it,” said Fransen, who has lived on the street since 2003. “It’s a thoroughfare for members.”
Shawn Sanders, Director of Public Works for Stillwater, told the Pioneer Press that he and other city officials have determined that the club will receive no benefit from the roadwork.
In a memo to the Stillwater City Council written on September 19th, City Attorney Dave Magnuson explained the city’s position, the Pioneer Press reported.
“If an assessment against a golf course is proposed, it must consider whether the value as a golf course is increased by the improvement,” Magnuson wrote. “Does the improvement of Moore Street improve the golf course as a golf course?”
According to Magnuson’s memo, the Pioneer Press reported, Ray Kirchner, an appraiser the city has hired in at least 50 assessment appeals, told city officials that the benefit to the country club “would be minute and unable to be substantiated by any market data I’m aware of.”
“I would suggest that the city not pursue [assessing the club],” Kirchner concluded.
Mayor Ted Kozlowski told the Pioneer Press he was surprised by that finding.
“We assess churches, we assess the school district, we assess ballfields owned by the school district, we assess vacant land, but for some reason, we don’t assess [the Stillwater Country Club],” he said.
Kozlowski said he believes the country club will likely increase in value as a result of the street project.
“The city attorney and appraiser have said it would be ‘miniscule.’ That still means some, but we just don’t know as a city what that is,” the mayor said. “We would have to hire an appraiser to see what [the increase in value] would be. It could come back that it’s a $5,000 increase, and the appraisal might cost us $3,500.”
The cities of Cottage Grove and Minneapolis have been successful in assessing golf courses for road improvements, Mayor Kozlowski told the Pioneer Press.
“There’s nothing that prevents it,” said Gapen, an attorney who is retired from practicing in Wisconsin. “Cemeteries cannot be assessed because there is a special statute for that, but there is nothing for golf courses. How can you justify putting the total burden on the residents instead of having the country club share the burden with them?”
Gapen finds it hard to believe the country club won’t benefit from the road improvements.
“If that’s true, then I receive no benefit either because all I do is drive on it,” she told the Pioneer Press. “That just shows the ridiculousness of it.”
In Stillwater, property owners pay 70 percent of the cost of street reconstruction, and the city pays 30 percent, the Pioneer Press reported. Because the golf course will not be assessed, the city will pay 100 percent of the cost for work on the road that borders the club’s property.
Fransen said she is furious that the city is picking up the country club’s costs.
“Why are they privileged? Why does the city pay for them and not us?” she asked the Pioneer Press. “Why is the city so voraciously protecting a country club that does not benefit the city in any way? It’s private. No one can go over there without a member.”
The Pioneer Press reported that a Stillwater Country Club official did not return phone calls seeking comment about the issue.
A 2014 vote by the Stillwater city council changed the way the city pays for street work, the Pioneer Press reported. Previously, property owners and the city split the cost.
“At the time, the city was low on improvement funds, and we felt that we could raise the rate and still show benefit to property owners with the higher rates,” Sanders explained to the Pioneer Press.
The assessments can be paid over 10 years at an interest rate of 4 percent, he added.
The Moore Street project is part of a $2.2 million package that includes mill and overlay work throughout larger sections of Stillwater, which has a population of just under 20,000, the Pioneer Press reported.
Homeowners are charged per unit for the roadwork, while commercial and industrial properties are charged by linear footage.
Fransen, Gapen and Adams feel the country club should be charged by linear footage, the Pioneer Press reported, noting that The First Methodist Church of Stillwater is being charged that way and will be assessed nearly $19,000 for work on its street.
Property owners will be given an opportunity to protest the special assessments at a hearing on October 17th, and can also appeal the assessment in Washington County (Minn.) District Court, the Pioneer Press reported.
Residents have been canvassing the neighborhood and hope to draw a large crowd to the hearing.
“We really question if the road improvement is going to increase our homes’ values [equal to] the amount of the assessment,” Fransen said.
City officials had three appraisals done after concerns were raised by residents who live on Olive Street, the first street rebuilt after the city changed the way it pays for street work, Sanders told the Pioneer Press. Each appraisal showed that the benefit received from the street work exceeded the cost of the assessment, he said.
City officials, however, did agree to a $2,000 decrease in the assessment of one Olive Street resident who appealed, according to Sanders.
Gapen and the other residents said that Stillwater City Council members Tom Weidner and Dave Junker, who are members of Stillwater Country Club, should recuse themselves from voting on the issue to avoid a conflict of interest.
According to Magnuson, a council member who is a member of the country club would be entitled to vote on a proposal related to property adjoining the club.
But Gapen said she hopes they will do what she considers “the right thing.”
“I’m a realist, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t, but I would certainly hope that they would,” she said.