Council certifies Buffalo Hills project assessments; 3 property owners contest
Those who contested the assessments must go to district court if they want to take the matter further.
Assessment amounts are certified for the previously contested Buffalo Hills Lane reconstruction project in south Brainerd.
Three property owners contested their assessments Monday, Oct. 19, for the $1.85 million project completed last year but will have to go to Crow Wing County District Court if they want to continue fighting.
The project included the reconstruction of Buffalo Hills Lane from Greenwood Street to Mississippi Drive, and Mississippi Drive from Buffalo Hills Lane to the dead end. Buffalo Hills Lane was never constructed to city standards regarding grade and alignment, meaning the existing subdivisions were never assessed for the costs. Last year’s reconstruction project brought wider, better quality streets; stormwater facilities; and pedestrian trails. Of the total cost, $381,817 was assessed to residents on Buffalo Hills Lane, Garydon Avenue, Mississippi Drive, Ridge Drive, Ridge Court, Aspen Court, Tanager Circle, Whippoorwill Lane, Blue Jay Court, Carol Lane, Crestview Lane, Norway Court, Woodridge Lane and Southview Court.
Property owners were assessed based on the original number of platted parcels in the developments. So if a residence is on two combined parcels, the assessment is double. Likewise, if a parcel was split in half, so was the assessment. The access to a property was taken into consideration as well, depending on if property owners have to use Buffalo Hills Lane to exit their property. Those with more than one access point received lower assessments.
Shane and Emilee Olstad, who live on Ridge Drive, have their home on a parcel that was previously two lots. But they said it is only one residence, and there is not room for expansion, so they feel it is unfair they were assessed for two lots.
“With only one residence, the improvements would only be benefiting one household and thereby should be assessed as one property and not two lots,” the Olstads wrote in a statement to the council. “The value of the assessment is vague and how the assessment amount of was decided upon considering our home is not actually on the improved streets being assessed.”
City Engineer Paul Sandy explained the assessment methodology, but the Olstads — who joined the virtual meeting by phone — maintained it was unfair, as they only pay taxes for one residence.
“It should be changed and considered per resident, not per lot,” Emilee Olstad said. “And the fact that we got two assessments is not correct, nor is it fair, considering we get — like my husband said — we get taxed one residence. Why are we being assessed for two?”
She added she would like the council to fix the assessment and only assess them for one lot. Sandy maintained larger lots benefited more from the project.
Those on Carol Lane received higher assessments than some, as Buffalo Hills Lane is the only access point.
“There is no supported Minnesota law for this approach,” Carlson wrote, specifically asking the city to lower his assessment from $1,700 to no more than $400.
Minnesota State Statute states a special assessment cannot exceed the amount by which the property benefits from the improvement. The benefit is measured by the increase in market value of land due to the improvement. The city hired Nagell Appraisal & Consulting to conduct a market study of the properties before deciding on an assessment rate. The study found single-family lots without a driveway attached to Buffalo Hills Lane but rear and side frontage facing the road could see benefits of $1,500 to $4,000. Single-family properties without a driveway to or frontage road facing Buffalo Hills Lane were estimated to see benefits of $800-$1,500. Sandy said all the assessments fell within the appraisal range, many on the lower side.
“The reality is in many or most cases there will be no increase or the increase will be minimal in a property's value on account of a road being reconstructed,” Carlson asserted. “And this is certainly true if the property is not perfectly on the rebuilt road.
If the city does not lower his assessment to $400 or less, Carlson said he would take the matter to district court to find out if the assessment methodology was legal and met state requirements.
“I seriously doubt it does,” he wrote. “I will welcome the court’s review of this matter because someone needs to review the city’s approach and revise it. The approach is unlawful for many reasons.”
The council unanimously approved all assessments, with council member Kelly Bevans praising all the amenities living in Brainerd comes with.
“This is a $1.8 million project, and the assessments are $381,000,” he said. “If anybody ever questions what the benefit is of living in the city of Brainerd, add in a police department, fire department, parks and rec. And the list goes on. It’s a bargain.”
Council President Gabe Johnson gave high praise for the project as well, saying it was much-needed as one of the first issues he heard about when elected to the council six years ago.
“I had people coming up to me like, ‘You’ve got to get this road built, you’ve got to get this road built,’” he said. “We’ve been fighting about it for 15 years and finally got this project, so I think it’s a real good win for the city.”
Those who want to contest their assessments further must notify the mayor and city administrator within 30 days of the council’s adoption of assessments. That person must then file notice with the district court within 10 days of notifying the city.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .