Lebanon Hills public input needs authority

by Maryann Passe
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

Twelve years ago, after a park development plan for Lebanon Hills Regional Park was stopped by the public, a 26-member task force including 14 user group representatives created the 2001 Lebanon Hills Master Plan. It was a compromise plan that set the groundwork for “the park’s future 10, 20 or even 50 years hence.”

Within seven years, the Dakota County Board of  Commissioners approved the 2008 Dakota County Park System Plan designating Lebanon Hills as the hub of Dakota County’s Greenway Trail System with seven trails converging at the park.

This plan, developed by county staff and consultants, was approved by the county commissioners despite its conflict with the 2001 Master Plan. That plan designated only one connector trail that would be soft surface, hug the park perimeter, and follow its hilly terrain. (Having any connector trail at all was a hard fought compromise, according to task force participants.)

The County Board and Park Department officials claim the 2013 Development Plan is the result of public demand. However, having dug hard through the public record, it is a tepid demand at best. One of the cited surveys was taken at a public meeting  July 10, 2012 (announced in these newspapers on July 3 – the height of summer vacation time).

Of the approximately 50 people attending, 30 were unscientifically surveyed. These 30 responses are one of the user inputs sited by County Board Member Tom Egan that justifies this $31 million plan. Amazing, especially since the Greenway Hub plan had been approved by the commissioners four years before in 2008.

Since January 2013 the county has presented the Development Plan as a complete concept. Among its many development ideas, the connector trail is shown as two options snaking through the middle of the park. The public is then asked whether the trail should be built here or there. However, the pertinent questions have never been asked:

• Do you want paved Greenway Trails through Lebanon Hills?

• What are your needs for paved trails in the park (accessibility, commuting, etc.)?

• What kind of park do you want Lebanon Hills to be: a bicycle hub, a minimally developed nature-based recreation park, or other?

• What are your top priorities for Lebanon Hills?

• Are you willing to pay higher taxes for annual maintenance for ongoing development in Lebanon Hills?

• Do you support a user fee for Lebanon Hills?

Despite not being asked these questions, it appears the public is answering. Besides public comments running overwhelmingly opposed to the plan, there is a petition being circulated with already nearly 1,000 signatures demanding the 2013 Development Plan be suspended and a Park Board be established to restart the planning.

Considering the county’s history of ignoring real public input (the 2001 Master Plan) and implementing its own vision for Lebanon Hills, it appears a necessity that the park has a Park Board. That is the only way to ensure the public really has input.

To sign the petition, go to www.wildlebanonhills.org.

Maryann Passe is a resident of Eagan and freelance writer. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.