MAHTOMEDI — After almost a year awaiting the court's decision on the neighborhood path dispute in Echo Lake, the city learned last week that District Court Judge Douglas Meslow ruled in the city's favor. The judgement won't be signed, however, until a review of objections filed by the opposing attorney.
The neighborhood dispute that led to legal action started in 2017 when residents in the Wildridge Pines and Echo Lake neighborhoods who walked their dogs, learned how to ride a bike or walked to a friend's house on the path discovered that their safe link between the two neighborhoods had been torn up.
The property owner at 970 Wildridge Court, who maintained that the trail was on her property and didn't want the public on her land, had brought construction equipment in to tear up the trail.
Neighbors packed the Oct. 3, 2017 City Council meeting to voice concerns about the destruction of the path that sheltered them from using the shoulder of busy Lincolntown Avenue when traveling between neighborhoods.
Residents in both the Echo Lake and Wildridge Pines neighborhoods asserted that because the city had been maintaining the path year round, including plowing snow during the winter, that the path was a city pedestrian access easement. Brown signs on the trail that the city installed also suggested public ownership.
After long legal discussions, the property owner at 970 Wildridge Court, Katherine Verzhbitska-Radzills, and the City of Mahtomedi sued each other over ownership. The city filed its lawsuit to seek a declaration as to its rights regarding the pedestrian access easement that was created in 1992. At that time, as part of the requirements contained in the Development Agreement, an eight-foot bituminous walkway was installed by the developer within a 20-foot pedestrian access easement in order to connect Wildrige Pines 2nd Addition to a future residential development to the south, which later became known as the Echo Lake Addition.
The difficulty for the city at first was finding the documents to prove its assertion. The development contract was always there, City Attorney Jay Karlovich said, but city officials could not lay their hands on the paper trail for the recorded easement documents. Eventually, city staff was able to find the developer's agreement that called for a city trail at that location. Additionally, the developer himself testified in court.
Karlovich said he thought the city prevailed because the trail had been in place since 1992. “If the city was using the trail for more than 15 years, it can claim the trail,” he said.
Attorneys for Verzhbitska-Radzills have two weeks to file a legal memorandum objecting to the decision. After the judge reviews a possible order for objection, he will sign the decision.
If Judge Meslow does sign the decision in its favor, the city will approve a change order and repave the path immediately. Contractors and their equipment are already on the site working on the Echo Lake Street Improvement Project, Karlovich noted.
Although the opposing party has 60 days to file an appeal against the judge's signed decision, the city would not wait for the results of an appeal to pave. That would mean having to start all over the process of soliciting bids, entering into a new contract and bringing back equipment at a later date – all at greater expense, Karlovich said.
Roadwork in the Echo Lake development is expected to wrap up in July.