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Riverfront development issue starts in 2005

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news Red Wing, 55066
Republican Eagle
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Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

Green space proponents got vocal in 2005 about protecting Red Wing's riverfront when developer Ford Thompson announced his plan for housing and office buildings on the 202 acres.

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Citizens' persistence and efforts have shaped government decisions about the stretch of land from Jackson Street to Bay Point Park ever since.

This year the Red Wing City Council voted to put the publicly owned land into a permanent easement with the Minnesota Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization.

Most types of development - commercial, industrial and residential -- are limited under the arrangement, essentially ensuring the area remains a green space the whole community can enjoy.

The easement was most set in motion in 2008 by a land donation from the Sweasy Family Fund, which offered to buy three acres near Bay Point Park for more than $800,000 on the city's behalf as long as officials agreed to put the property and 195 acres around it into a state conservation easement.

But hundreds of Red Wing residents had been rallying for a similar outcome before the Sweasy Family Fund made that donation.

In what city Planning Director Brian Peterson called "an unprecedented effort," citizens delivered massive levels of feedback through phone polling, questionnaires and surveys throughout July 2005.

The surveys indicated strong support for open space, park expansion in the Upper Harbor and redevelopment of the Pottery/Old West Main Street District. Public opinion revealed strong opposition to residential and office use on the Upper Harbor.

But that didn't mean the end of commercial development discussions.

Developer Ford Thompson was no longer on the scene but in February 2006 Dick Morris's ET Investments firm purchased property at 1429 Levee Road for $1 million with plans to build condos there.

Residents again rallied against the idea and Red Wing City Council and the Planning Commission continued to enact moratoriums while making decisions about what to do with the land.

In 2007, City Council voted to rezone the riverfront to restrict certain types of development in the area. Red Wing Grain, Archer Daniels Midland and Xcel Energy are all exempt from the rezone.

Around that time, Morris dropped his hopes of obtaining a conditional-use permit to develop property on Levee Road. That's the site the Sweasy Family Fund later bought.

The city's decision this year to put the land into a permanent easement ensures the area will remain green space unless the city decides to attempt negotiations with the land trust for a development.

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