BNSF pays $9.8M for property along river in St. Paul Park

By Emily Buss on Mar 10, 2015 at 2:52 p.m.

South Washington County Bulletin article

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

The sale of the vacant agricultural land was finalized in December, according to Jennifer Wagenius, director of Washington County Property Records and Taxpayer Services for Washington County.

Nesvig declined to comment on the transaction.

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

Included in the sale, Wagenius said, were six parcels of varying acreage located west of County Road 75 and south of 15th Avenue, behind Wood River Pipeline’s storage tanks.

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.

“It’s kind of a tough deal,” Franke said. “It definitely kills development on that side of County Road 75.”

The property, part of Grey Cloud Island Township, was annexed by St. Paul Park in 2005. Township board members fought against the annexation, even taking it to court. However, in July 2006, a Washington Court 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 in as much as $3.1 million for infrastructure improvements to the area ahead of proposed residential development. However, Franke said a combination of citizen pushback and a housing market crash halted further proposals.

Both Franke and City Administrator Kevin Walsh said since the sale was finalized, both parties have remained tight-lipped about future details. Because BNSF is subject to the Federal Railroad Administration, a branch of the Federal Department of Transportation, Franke said there are different laws that 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 is continuing to discuss possible development of nearby land, property which Nesvig also owns. Franke added that the Friends of the Mississippi River is interested in purchasing other land near there 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 over 250 acres of vacant agricultural land, Franke said: “We just want to be part of the conversation.”

Christina O'Grady