The Cahanes family never wanted to see their dairy farm turn into a housing development.
The children of the late Louis and Alice Cahanes hoped the land in rural Washington County could remain a working farm or become part of the Bayport Wildlife Management Area, which borders the 195-acre farm to the north.
After Alice Cahanes died in 2016, at the age of 97, her children twice approached the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to see if the agency would expand the WMA to include the family’s land in Baytown Township.
During the first round of negotiations, in 2017, the DNR worked with the Trust for Public Land, Washington County and the township to come up with a package. But the agencies’ appraisal ended up being about $300,000 lower than the family’s, and “they couldn’t bring it up,” said Eileen Bergmann, who grew up on the farm with her six siblings.
The following year, Bergmann and her siblings were approached by residential developer Chris Aamodt, whose family owns Aamodt Apple Farm in Grant. He proposed building The Orchards at Cahanes Farms, a 115-house development.
When that deal fell through in 2019, family members went back to the DNR and the other agencies. Officials from the Trust for Public Land said their original grant was no longer available and suggested the family work with Pheasants Forever.
After nine months of negotiating, “they had partial funds, but they didn’t know where the rest was coming from,” Bergmann said. “I think it’s just the chain of command; there were too many people to go through. We just couldn’t wait any longer.”
The family is now in the process of selling the land, which has been in their family since 1943, to Derrick Custom Houses of New Richmond, Wis. The developer plans to build 101 single-family houses on the site. More than half of the land, about 103 acres, would be set aside as open space.
“We tried our best,” said Bergmann, who owns Country Sun Farm in Lake Elmo. “If we could sell it to a farmer, we would. Unfortunately, the value of the land is more than what a farmer can earn off it. It’s too valuable for a farmer to put crops or cattle on it; they can’t afford it.”
THE RUSTY PATCHED BUMBLE BEES
Neighbors of the farm are upset with the plans. They say the land, which includes prairie, woods and wetlands, is a valuable ecological resource and could be expanded or restored as habitat for deer, pheasant, turkey and other nongame species.
They also say the development, called Hills of Spring Creek, would generate too much traffic on a road not equipped for it and would alter the township’s rural character. Most of the houses in the township sit on lots that are 2½ acres or larger; the lots in Hills of Spring Creek would range from 0.5 acres to .75 acres.
“That’s much denser than what has traditionally been allowed,” said Roger Miller, who lives nearby.
Once a farm managed by the state Department of Corrections, the WMA was transferred to the DNR in 1973. It is “a good area to go hiking and observe purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans in the planted prairie,” according to the DNR. Blanding’s turtles, which are endangered, and Leonard’s skipper butterflies and red-shouldered hawks, which are threatened, have been spotted in the area.
Miller also wants officials to survey the Cahanes farm for rusty patched bumble bees, listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
PRESERVATIONISTS STILL INTERESTED
Scott Noland, area wildlife manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said preserving the land was considered a “high-priority” project. “It’s an excellent property. … It would have doubled the size of the WMA in that area.”
Officials from the state, the Trust for Public Land, Washington County and Baytown worked together on the original proposal, he said. County officials agreed to contribute $1 million from the county’s Land and Water Legacy program — a bond referendum passed by Washington County voters in 2006 authorizing up to $20 million in taxes to be raised and spent on parks, land preservation and water protection.
“With the state, it does take us a little time to purchase parcels,” Noland said. “That’s unfortunate when families really are trying to move forward quickly.”
The land contains 14 acres of wetlands, 23 acres of oak woodland, 70 acres of upland grass and 88 acres of crop pasture land, Noland said. “We would have been able to restore the upland grass and cropland to native prairie,” he said. “It would have been an excellent addition for the local community.”
Bob McGillivray, land protection director for the Trust for Public Land, said he was disappointed original negotiations fell through.
“Having a large natural area like this, in close proximity to urban areas where a lot of people can have access to that land, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Officials from the state and Washington County said Thursday that they would still be interested in the land if the Cahanes family were willing sellers.
COSTS OF WAITING TOO STEEP
The family cannot afford to wait any longer, Bergmann said. Brothers Doug and Jerry stopped farming the land in 2017.
“We have held on to it as long as we can,” she said. “Every year that it sits there, it costs us in taxes. And there’s insurance too.”
“It’s not easy for us to let go,” Bergmann said. “I understand that nobody wants to see development, but, unfortunately, we can’t remain rural when the metropolitan area is pushing out into our counties. People have to have a place to live.”
The developer is well respected in the township, said Bergmann, who says she is confident the project will be an asset to the community.
“We’re not trying to upset the neighbors,” she said. “I don’t know why they are fighting this. You know what? Those people moved in, too. They weren’t there when I was growing up. Thank goodness we didn’t have pigs.”
A TIMELINE AND PLANS IN THE WORKS
A consulting company hired by Derrick Custom Homes is in the process of updating an environmental assessment that was done on the property in 2018.
Ron Derrick, president of Derrick Custom Homes, said he expects the purchase agreement to be signed this spring. Construction of the development could start in June, and the first house could be under construction by September.
The Hills of Spring Creek is expected to be accessed from Osgood Avenue on the east and 47th Street North on the west; no access from the south is allowed because of a railroad track. The development is expected to generate about 940 vehicle trips a day.
The heavily wooded 47th Street North was not designed to be an access road for 101 homes, said Bethany Falch, who lives on the connecting 47th Street Court North. There are seven homes on 47th Street North and eight homes on 47th Street Court North, which link to connect to Northbrook Boulevard.
The road has no sidewalks and contains many blind spots because of large trees, Falch said. “It doesn’t have lines painted down the middle. It is a rural street. It maybe sees 10 cars a day. It’s not designed to handle heavy loads — certainly not 500 cars a day.”
Bergmann said the road right-of-way leading to the family farm off of 47th Street North was designated in the 1960s before any houses were built on the street. “Everybody that built in that area should have known that the road was right up onto our property in case we wanted to develop,” she said.
Derrick plans to present three possibilities regarding 47th Street North to the township: have the road be two-way, one-way or be made available only to emergency vehicles. “We want to be good neighbors,” he said.
The Baytown planning commission recommended approval of the development’s conditional-use permit and preliminary plat in January. The five-member town board must take up the matter at either its March or April meeting or schedule a special meeting.
TRAILS, BUFFER ZONE
The Hills of Spring Creek would be served by a community septic system and get water from Bayport, Derrick said. Two miles of trails would be built in the development. There also would be a buffer zone between the properties on 47th Street North and the new homes, which will range in price from $700,000 to $1 million.
“We’re trying to make it as palatable as we can,” Derrick said. “I get it. We’re the evil developers, and you’ve had a sanctuary in your backyard for how many years now. But it is somebody’s property. And people need to find a place to live. Right now there are very few options.”
John Hall, the township chairman, said he is holding out hope that the land could still become part of the WMA.
“To have a tract of land like this within our major metropolitan area … it’s just a real gem,” he said.
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