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Agreement would nullify lawsuit settlement over high school

FARMINGTON -- City and school district legal teams are working hard to amend and void terms of a lawsuit settlement agreement from more than a decade ago.

Farmington School District Superintendent Jay Haugen reported an update at the School Board work session Monday, June 11, at Farmington High School -- the source of the dispute.

“The two entities had disagreements over utilities and roads and it wasn’t a real good time in our community,” Haugen said.

Farmington High School was built in 2006 and opened its doors to students in 2009, but not before controversy brewed between the district and city that led to litigation.

The dispute began Sept. 18, 2005, when the district filed complaints after Farmington City Council voted 3-2 against making zoning changes and amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan stated no new development should take place in the area selected for the new high school until 2015 to 2020.

The litigation was ultimately resolved during a process where James Gilbert, a retired and former Minnesota Associate Supreme Court justice, served as the mediator. Back then, Gilbert reported how this legal case was the most complex in his 34 years of practicing law.

The May 6, 2007, settlement initiated an amendment to the land-use plan allowing the high school to be built on the city’s western side off Flagstaff Avenue on 110 acres known as the Christensen property.

Draft coming soon

Haugen explained how the settlement called for the district to bear certain expenses when development happened near the school. That development is starting to happen.

City staff are crafting a revised agreement that will soon be shared with council members. In essence, district would not have to pay for a major road, and the utilities assessments the city was then going to collect to pay the district would not happen.

“We would just all take care of our own stuff and we would step totally out of the agreement is the basic idea,” Haugen said.

Farmington School Board will receive the draft after the Farmington City Council approves it.

“When we share it with our attorney, we will definitely come back with some things that will say this is all good, but I don’t think this says exactly what you want it to say and here are a couple of things,” Haugen said.

The board discussed bringing this topic to the July joint with the City Council, but Haugen said fine tuning the agreement will take more time.

“Who knows – maybe the clouds will part and the sun will shine, but we will not have a chance to really discuss this between now and then unless something happens really fast and we can bring it to the second meeting in June,” Haugen said.

Board member Julie Singewald commended Haugen and City Administrator David McKnight for bringing this forward, and Board Member Jacilyn Doyle asked if the final draft will be complete by the end of the year.

Haugen said he expects so -- perhaps by August if both sides’ legal teams come to agreement.

“The timing is right because we have the development happening and it is there,” Haugen said.

Residential growth

Due to a rise in residential development in Farmington and Lakeville, the communities need to construct a road that will be 208th Street to connect them. In the future, 208th Street also will connect from Cedar Avenue in Lakeville to Flagstaff Avenue in Farmington.

The original agreement stated the city would build the road and the school district would pay for it on the Farmington side.

“I think it will be good news to some people in the community and for people who were around or on the board and council at that time,” Board member Jake Cordes said of the potential new agreement.

Haugen compared this action to closing a chapter in a book.

School Board Chair Melissa Sauser asked if nullifying the settlement would affect the district’s budget since there will not be a need to pay for the construction of the road.

“Nothing – it saves us future tax burden is what it does, but nothing on our current budget,” said Jane Houska, district finance director.

Board member Steve Corraro said he thinks the lawsuit still serves as a sore spot in the community.

“There are a lot of community members who are still outraged about this whole thing and even board members.” Corraro said.

“I would say there are also a lot of board members who would be glad to see this done,” Singewald said.

Singewald said many in the community are still disappointed there is not an athletic center in place at the Farmington High School and they thought it was the one opportunity to have that built when the school was under construction, but they are not filled with fire and brimstone.

“We just need to have our facts on because I do not want to come out of that meeting because it should be positive just like tonight, and I think it is great that we are going to move forward, but I think more questions could come up,” Corraro said.

“There are still old wounds out there and I think our intergovernmental committee was a little disconnected about that, and I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page because this is a huge -- I think it is a huge success story,” he added.

“Us trusting the process is demonstrating that trust,” Singewald said.