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Farmington School Board talks about nullifying litigation agreement with city

FARMINGTON — Soon one final chapter will be written in a long, formerly contentious story about land that is now Farmington High School encircled by farmland.

Farmington School Board updated residents about working on an agreement at its Sept. 24 meeting.

"A number of people lived this story over a decade ago when there were plans to build a new high school, and there was some contention around where the city sued the school district and the school district sued the city," said Jay Haugen, district superintendent.

For the past few months, Farmington School Board and the City of Farmington have worked collaboratively with staff and attorneys to amend a settlement agreement.

A legal dispute began Sept. 18, 2005 all connected to land where Farmington High School now makes a home. Farmington School District filed complaints against the city after Farmington City Council voted against making zoning changes and amendments to the city's Comprehensive Plan.

At the time, the plan stated no new development should take place on land where Farmington High School stands today. The future housing development was planned to take place from 2015 to 2020.

The litigation was ultimately resolved during a mediation process where Justice James Gilbert, a retired and former Minnesota Associate Supreme Court Judge, served as the mediator. Gilbert focused energies on aiding both parties to settle the lawsuit, he said, in lieu of a long, drawn-out trial. Gilbert reported this legal case was the most complex in any court or any jurisdiction in his history of his practicing law for 34 years.

Common ground broke out of the mediation process when the city and school district settled the legal dispute May 6, 2007. The settlement initiated an amendment to the Comp Land Use Plan that amended zoning ordinances to allow the new high school to be built on the western side of Flagstaff Avenue on 110 acres known as the Christensen property.

"In the end, they came up with an agreement to move ahead and we have had a really great relationship with our city ever since this school got built," Haugen said.

Today new housing is cropping up near and around Farmington High School and this is what prompted a closer look at the agreement.

"Let's just agree we are in a good place now and we are in agreement that nullifies that agreement, and we can act like all other school districts and cities where they build the roads and collect those assessments just seems to make the most sense," Haugen said.

Melissa Sauser, chair of Farmington School Board, said she met as part of the district's executive committee along with the mayor and the city engineer to talk about the amended agreement.

The Farmington City Council will review the amended paperwork at its Oct. 1 council meeting. After the council makes any changes, it may take a vote on the agreement at the second council meeting Monday, Oct. 15.

Then Farmington City Administrator David McKnight and the city engineer will come to the Farmington School Board's work session on Oct. 8 to answer any questions from the school board.

"I think one thing that everybody needs to be aware of is we talk about two separate entities and it is not the city shifting any extra tax burden or vice versa — it is cost neutral," said Steve Corraro, school board member.

"There is no extra money that Farmington school taxpayers have to pay for this — it is with the developers and I think a lot of people thought that the city was going to negotiate XYZ money and the school district this amount of money and it is not that way," Corraro added.