Continued concerns over UMore Park plans

The University wants to build a community for 25,000 people on the site.

Elizabeth Ryan

After decades of controversy over the University of Minnesota’s UMore Park, community members continue to voice their concerns over its development.

A public comment period on the proposed plans for the 5,000acres of land, located 25 miles southeast of the metro, ended July 10, and worries remain about water use and population growth.

Approved by the Board of Regents in 2008, development plans for UMore include a self-sustaining community for 25,000 people, a sand and gravel mine and industrial areas.

The Rosemount City Council has to approve the plans in September before the University can move forward.

Carla Carlson, executive director of UMore Development LLC, estimated the annual budget for upkeep and planning the development is about $1 million.

Community members and agencies were commenting on the Alternative Urban Areawide Review of the property released in May, which modeled scenarios for the area’s future and addressed
environmental issues that could arise.

 “The AUAR gives the opportunity to prepare for different scenarios,” Carlson said. “You can’t anticipate all that can happen over decades.”

A history of change

In the past, members of the University and surrounding communities have taken issue with the property’s contested land ownership, research use and environmental impacts.

The University bought the property from the federal government in the late 1940s for $1. For decades, faculty, staff and students conducted a few dozen research projects on the land each year.

The University hired a firm to design plans for the land’s future in 2006. The Board of Regents approved the plans two years later for both the community and mine.

In 2010, 29 students, faculty and staff members wrote a letter to the regents protesting plans to turn agricultural research plots into a mine. The University signed a 40-year lease for the sand and gravel mine in 2011.

Officials estimated the University would make about $4 million per year off the mine, according to a previous Minnesota Daily article.

Les Everett, a University agronomist, said he hasn’t personally lost any research plots at UMore but works closely with some who have. Some research projects in the affected areas were long-term experiments that now have to start over in new locations, he said.

“I’m a concerned bystander,” Everett said. “… It’s still unresolved as far as the agricultural side of this.”

The University has also conducted wind energy research on the land since receiving a nearly $8 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to build a wind turbine in 2011.

Last summer, the University lost a lawsuit over a lease dispute with Jensen Field, Inc., a small airport located where the wind turbine is now. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered the University to pay the airport more than $140,000 in relocation costs.

The future community

In its master plan for the community, the University outlines its vision for a development at UMore Park that includes housing, businesses, schools, community centers, parks and hospitals. The master plan calls the project an “unusual opportunity” for a university to design a community that can become a “legacy.”

 The University plans the development to be self-sustaining, modeling what it hopes other cities can someday mirror.

Future UMore residents will depend on groundwater, however, which has led to “significant concerns” from the Metropolitan Council.

Long-term research from the Council on groundwater availability suggests water resources in the UMore Park area would “considerab[ly]” decline in the next 30 years.

The council voiced its concern with the proposed community’s water use in a letter during the public comment period.

Dakota County staff members expressed similar concerns.

“Groundwater may not be an adequate or feasible long-term water source,” the staff members said in the letter.

Rosemount senior planner Eric Zweber said water use issues won’t be solved immediately, but city officials will continue to work with the agencies to address these concerns over time.

“We understand what the issue is and what the desire is, which is for the region to use more surface water,” he said, “particularly more water out of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers than is used now.”

But a major challenge is that it’s more expensive to use surface water instead of ground water, said Jill Trescott, groundwater protection supervisor for Dakota County.

Zweber said the next step in the community’s progress is to change the land use designation from research to development, taking into account the scenarios modeled in the AUAR.

Southern Minnesota resident Martha Hendrickson also had concerns about the proposal’s impact on the future of the city. Having grown up in Rosemount, she said she’s seen communities like UMore develop over and over.

“Think of the long-term future hundreds of years from now,” she said in an email comment on the AUAR. “Think of our descendants, and ask whether they will have any natural spaces left.”

Hendrickson said people shouldn’t have to drive out of their way to appreciate natural spaces. Even though UMore Park has proposed green spaces, she said she worries Rosemount will lose the connection to its prairie roots.