Carlos Avery housing project on hold, for now

By Joe Albert

Staff Writer

Ham Lake, Minn. – A judge has put a stop to construction of a
housing development that some say will destroy a dry-oak forest
near the 23,000-acre Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area.

District Court Judge Sharon Hall last Tuesday issued a temporary
injunction at the request of the Minnesota Center for Environmental
Advocacy that will halt work on the 362-acre site for the time
being.

The order prevents both the city of Ham Lake and the developer,
Tollefson Development, Inc., from doing any work that would alter,
damage, or impair the dry oak forest or other natural resources on
the property.

MCEA learned two weeks ago the developer planned to begin
cutting trees and bulldozing the property last week. That would
have ruined wildlife habitat and woodlands in short supply in the
state, said Matt Norton, forestry advocate with MCEA.

The environmental group has worked to protect the dry-oak forest
for more than two years.

“The project they’re proposing would slice and dice that dry-oak
woodland,” Norton said. “When you’re going after and chopping up
the last little remnants of the habitat that once stretched across
Minnesota, it does significant harm to wildlife and habitat, and
it’s all avoidable.”

The MCEA isn’t trying to stop the project, but wants to see the
habitat preserved, Norton said. An alternative agreed upon by
Tollefson and MCEA would’ve saved the dry-oak forest and maintained
the same number of homes in the development, he said.

The city rejected the plan that MCEA and the developer agreed
upon, Norton said, because it didn’t want to grant a variance that
would allow lots smaller than one acre in size.

City officials didn’t return calls seeking comment.

“This is the last chunk of native habitat in the city of Ham
Lake that is unprotected (according to the County Biological
Survey),” Norton said. “They felt this was not worth the bother of
a variance from their ordinances.”

In seeking to stop bulldozing and the cutting of trees on the
property, Norton said such action would “do irreparable harm to
Carlos Avery and the habitat on the property.”

In granting MCEA’s request, the judge found there was a high
likelihood that MCEA would be successful at trial, scheduled for
December. MCEA alleged in its suit that the city of Ham Lake was
wrong in its assessment that the development wouldn’t damage the
environment.

Norton termed the court’s decision an “initial victory,” but,
nonetheless, said, “We’re very pleased about it.”

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