BNSF land deal ‘kills’ St. Paul Park development plan

PUBLISHED: March 10, 2015 at 11:01 pm | UPDATED: October 28, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Twin Cities Pioneer Press article

(Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

(Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

Property owner Gordon Nesvig has sold more than 250 acres in St. Paul Park to BNSF Railway for $9.8 million, land along the Mississippi River in an area the city once proposed to develop as the Rivers Edge residential subdivision.

Amy McBeth, regional director of public affairs for BNSF, confirmed that the company purchased the property but said there were no current plans for development.

Nesvig declined to comment on the sale of the agricultural land.

While the proposed Rivers Edge development stalled several years ago, St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said the sale of the land effectively ends the effort.

The property, part of Grey Cloud Island Township, was annexed by St. Paul Park in 2005. Township board members fought the annexation, even taking it to court. However, in July 2006, a Washington County District Court judge upheld the decision. Roughly 300 acres to the east of the land Nesvig recently sold was, at the time, slated for residential development.

Had the development moved forward, Franke said, “The amount of benefit we were going to see, it would have saved us millions of dollars.”

The Rivers Edge developers, he said, were planning to sink as much as $3.1 million for infrastructure improvements into the area ahead of proposed residential development. Franke said a combination of citizen pushback and a housing market crash halted further proposals.

Both Franke and city administrator Kevin Walsh said that since the sale was finalized, both parties have remained tight-lipped about future details. Because BNSF is under Federal Railroad Administration jurisdiction, Franke said different laws apply when it comes to development of the property.

“We’re still looking to see what kind of say we have, but our understanding is that the railroads have rights upon themselves that supercede our (city) ordinances,” he said. “They have somewhat been given carte blanche from the feds as far as powers.”

Franke said the city continues to discuss possible development of nearby land, property Nesvig also owns. Franke added that the Friends of the Mississippi River is interested in purchasing other land nearby for conservation use.

“I would like to see a little mix of both, low-density residential and conservation,” Franke said. “I’m hoping sometime in the next several years, something will come to fruition, before we lose the possibility of at least a little growth in that area.”

While it is uncertain what the plans are for the more than 250 acres of vacant agricultural land, Franke said, “We just want to be part of the conversation.”

Christina O'Grady