Top 10: State supreme court sides with developer, against city on improvement fees
Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Aug. 15 that Woodbury cannot charge a developer for future major roadway improvements outside the development.
The ruling came after a November 2016 decision by a Washington County district court and a September 2017 affirmation by the state Court of Appeals that the fees were illegal.
In 2015, New Brighton-based developer Martin Harstad had plans to build a 183-home development called Bailey Park in Woodbury, but the city said he would need to pay a nearly $1.4 million fee for future improvements on roads that were not on his property. That fee would have added an average of about $7,000 to the price of each unit, Harstad said, and he decided to sue the city.
The fees would have gone toward the addition of roundabouts and traffic signals to accommodate any increased traffic near the new neighborhood, according to previous reporting by the Woodbury Bulletin. Roy Stefonowicz, one of Harstad's attorneys, said at the time that his client was "thrilled" by the ruling. "He has long contended that the city's fee was illegal and unenforceable, so it was very fulfilling to have the Minnesota Supreme Court affirm that in its decision," Stefonowicz said. The planned Bailey Park development has been in limbo since January 2016. Following the ruling, Stefanowicz said his client was considering his options regarding the development. This type of fee is common in Minnesota, which means the ruling could potentially lead to lower housing costs in the state in the future. It was called "a landmark victory for housing affordability" at the time by the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. In response to the Aug. 15 decision, Woodbury spokesperson Jason Egerstrom said:
"We appreciate the clarity provided by the court. We are interpreting the decision, gathering information and evaluating our next steps. We look forward to working with the building and development community to provide high-quality neighborhoods, while ensuring development costs will not be borne solely by the city's taxpayers."