Friday, February 15, 2008

Town Hall Meeting Update—More Questions than Answers as the City Water/Sewer Debate in Ham Lake Continues

It was a full house at Ham Lake City Hall this past Tuesday night. People from all over the city came to view the five options for growth being considered by the Task Force. Most of the standing room only audience was there to hear about the potential for city water and sewer as Ham Lake is currently a community with 100% individual septic systems and wells. The cost estimates for assessments running into the tens of thousands, brought out many concerned residents.

The Town Hall meeting regarding possible changes to the City of Ham Lake was brief but thorough. It was given by the two consultants with Bolton & Menk that were hired to set up and run the community development task force. Neither the Mayor nor any city officials, though present, addressed the public during the hour plus event.

The Five Alternative Visions being considered were presented, followed by a brief question and answer session. The consultants indicated the meeting was an opportunity for the community to view the alternatives but the final decisions on the plan would be made at a later date by the city council. Their opening remarks of how they had never seen such a big turnout for an event like this was an indication of how passionate Ham Lakers are about the subject of city water and sewer. (The crowd filled the meeting room and overflowed into the lobby seating area.)

Two of the visions were most concerning. Vision #1 would provide city water and sewer to a 115 mixed use village center with wastewater management provide by East Bethel. Vision #2 expands this plan with utilities for the village center and 1700 acres of surrounding residential areas with wastewater management provide by the Metropolitan Council.

The presentation began with slides that compared the Highway 65 corridor in the city of Ham Lake to several other Twin Cities completed village communities located in St. Louis Park, Burnsville, New Brighton and the newly developed Hugo area. Two of these were completely city- redevelopments with utility infrastructure already in place. It was also pointed out by a member of the audience that two of these commercial endeavors while better positioned to jobs, airport and downtowns than Ham Lake, still suffered significant financial difficulties. The presenter did concede that this could be true.

I reviewed documentation on the Ham Lake city website addressing
Ham Lake Development Needs. These include the following needs: failing septic systems in the commercial area at the corner of Highway 65 and Crosstown, a lack of an city image, poor frontage roads, a need for trails around McKinley Elementary and upgrading Lexington Avenue. I don’t know how many of these needs were addressed with the plans other than upgrading the septic and creating an image for the city in the plans.

Many new questions and problems will come from some of the proposals, specifically the mixed use, village community center concept with city utilities and high density residential. My biggest question is, “Why?”

The Answer: The City of East Bethel is doing it. This seems to one standout reason for installing city water and sewer and creating this neighborhood village-type shopping and residential center. East Bethel has recently committed to pursuing this concept with its own sewage system, so Ham Lake should likewise, seize the opportunity or be left behind. If Ham Lake doesn’t do it now, the community will have missed a growth opportunity and residents will have to drive two miles further north to shop in the East Bethel or five minutes south to Blaine.

Some questions that I still have following the Town Hall meeting are as follows:

  1. Finite lines for the proposed Sewer Area. It was said that the potential sewer area had finite lines and would only affect 7% of the area of Ham Lake with the rest remaining rural. One of these lines borders a new development on Crosstown that will have individual septic systems and wells. Not one lot has sold in two years since the development opened. Now I ask you, do you think a developer would ask for a variance to have city water and sewer cross the “finite” line so that the properties could be more affordable?

  2. Lake Netta is very near the 7% area with the finite lines. If septic systems start failing in this area, do you think there will be requests and variances to protect Lake Netta as well?

  3. If the answers to questions 1 and 2 are yes; Do one really believe that if city water and sewer are introduce in one area of Ham Lake, it won’t be introduced little by little to all parts of the city eventually?

  4. When looking at similar community developments, why wasn’t the recent project in the City of Ramsey reviewed? I would think that much could have been learned from their project as they are in an area the most similar to Ham Lake with many acreage properties on well and septic and have similar commute issues as they are located in the northwest suburban area. According to the 2005 profile on Met Council website, this 370 acre mixed use development is profiled as a conscious effort to redefine rural Ramsey’s identity. Could it be it wasn’t included because the Ramsey project is now considered a financial failure and in foreclosure?

  5. In looking at the other cities, what were the cost overruns for each of the projects? Why weren’t these costs added in as part of the cost equation?

  6. A statement was made existing homeowners would not have to connect their home to the water and sewer lines. The cost outline was for new homes only. A significant part of the 7% area included existing homes. Does this mean there would be no cost to that homeowner who does not connect? Or would there still be a substantial cost in assessments for city water and sewer being available in the street whether a resident chose to connect or not?

  7. Why aren’t all property owners citywide being assessed for this new development as they too would benefit from the community expansion and be end users of the new village center?

  8. As many property owners have more than one acre lots, will the fees be assessed based on current property identification numbers being counted as one assessment or per acre or some other smaller unit? The question was asked, but no firm answer was given.

  9. How can home owners, many struggling with financial issues or on fixed incomes, be expected to pay assessments that are exceeding 10-20% of their current property values?

  10. Why is there only an 800 resident phone survey being used rather than a citywide vote? If all city residents aren’t to pay for the new infrastructure, shouldn’t the end users who will be required to pay these assessments have a stronger voice in the issue?

  11. Will it really come down to a vote of the city council without a majority vote of Ham Lake citizens?

  12. Are there any legal options either as individuals or a class action that affected home owners have to delay this process until additional information can be gathered and reviewed?
Unfortunately, I don’t have answers to these questions. I had more questions than answers after the presentation this past Tuesday.

Today, I took a further step and look up the original information presented to the city council in January. It is worth looking at…especially page14 of the presentation describing how the improvements will be paid for…Up front, fully funded by the users. The costs projected at over $32,500 are in 2007 dollars without interest. Here is a link to the
slides used in the January presentation. There are differences with the Alternative Visions sheet passed out at the Town Hall meeting and this earlier presentation. Note that Alternative #5 for remaining status quo has no cost or even a page outlined in the January presentation. My guess is that is because there would be no cost if your well and septic are in good working order. This was changed in the public proposals to include a cost to the residential user of $22,000-$30,000 for a new well and septic system.

As a resident of Ham Lake I have concerns for my property value and possible assessments. As a Realtor working in the Ham Lake area, my clients have these concerns and questions too. If you are a Ham Lake resident, I invite you to leave your questions and comments regarding the proposal and Town Hall meeting here as well.


If you are buying, selling or relocating to Minnesota and need help from a professional Realtor, give me a call or visit my website for a FREE Relocation Packet. I specialize in acreage and lakeshore properties in the north and east Twin Cities metro area including Ham Lake, Lino Lakes and all communities in the Forest Lake School District! Serving Anoka, Chisago, Ramsey and Washington Counties in Minnesota.

Copyright 2008 Teri Eckholm