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Appeals court overturns Ideal cartway decision again

The Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the district court's ruling on the issue, meaning the Ideal Town Board's original 2020 decision stands.

Members of the Ideal Township Board sit at long tables.
Ideal Town Board members Ron Ommen, left, Dave Peterson and John Bilek, along with township attorney Bob Ruppe, discuss a cartway issue during a hearing Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, at Ideal Town Hall.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

IDEAL TOWNSHIP — The Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision March 14 to deny cartway access to Ideal Township property owner Jeffrey Feltmann.

The newest decision lines up with the Ideal Town Board’s original August 2020 ruling, which was reversed by Crow Wing County District Court judge Erik Askegaard in April 2021.

The issue at hand is access for Feltmann to his 5.9-acre parcel of property to the southwest of his restaurant, Old Milwaukee Club Saloon and Eatery, in Ideal Corners. Under Minnesota’s cartway statute 164.08, if a property owner has no legal access to a public road leading to their property, the municipality’s governing body must grant access from a public road. That access — which is called a cartway — must be at least 33 feet wide and no more than a half-mile long.

The cartway originally granted to Feltmann extends north to his property from a cul-de-sac at the end of Ideal Avenue. Ideal Avenue is part of Idyllwood Common Interest Community, an intentional low-density residential neighborhood off County Highway 39 created by Tom and Galeen Royce. Their goal in creating the neighborhood was to have a space that retains the up north woodland feel by preserving the bulk of the surrounding woods. Public trail systems run throughout the community, connecting to a common park system and to each home. Only 10 homes are planned for the neighborhood to maintain a low population density.

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For the owner of the Old Milwaukee Club in Ideal Corners, the access through a neighboring property is the best for his interest for an as yet unnamed development on commercially zoned property. For the family owning the neighboring property, putting a public road through their already planned low-density neighborhood with trails and preserved woods, would negatively impact their dream when other access options exist.

The Royces, along with daughter Allison, worry that future development on Feltmann’s land could bring high volumes of traffic through their community and essentially ruin the neighborhood they created. The family argued against Feltmann’s right to the cartway because he has access off Valhalla Road on the southeast corner of his property. Valhalla Road runs north from County Highway 39, beginning about a mile south of Feltmann’s property. A snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle trail runs from the end of Valhalla Road to Feltmann’s property.

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Feltmann, however, felt that access was not “meaningful,” which is a stipulation of the state’s cartway statute, as it is not wide enough for two vehicles, is on a steep incline and would have to be constructed to township standards.

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The cartway would give Jeffrey Feltmann access to his property from the north end of Ideal Avenue, which is a cul-de-sac.

The township board granted the cartway to Feltmann on a 2-1 vote in August 2020.The Royces appealed the decision and celebrated when Judge Askegaard overturned it last year, saying the town board “acted arbitrarily and capriciously and otherwise did not properly follow the applicable law when it established the cartway in question.”

The Ideal Town Board and Feltmann went on to appeal that decision.

The appeal

The township board granted the cartway to Feltmann on a 2-1 vote in August 2020.The Royces appealed the decision and celebrated when Askegaard overturned it last year, saying the town board “acted arbitrarily and capriciously and otherwise did not properly follow the applicable law when it established the cartway in question.”

The Ideal Town Board and Feltmann went on to appeal that decision.

The appeal was decided by judges Francis Connolly, Denise Reilly and Theodora Gaïtas, with Reilly writing the opinion overturning the district court decision.

“We determine that the district court erred by granting summary judgment in respondent’s favor and reversing the town board’s resolution granting the cartway petition. We therefore reverse and remand for future proceedings consistent with this opinion,” Reilly wrote.

Under state statute, a cartway can be granted when a property owner does not have meaningful access to their property, though statute does not define “meaningful.” The Ideal Town Board found Feltmann did not have meaningful access, thus granting the cartway. Askegaard, however, determined Feltmann did have meaningful access through Valhalla Road. The appeals court, however, argued the district court should not have ruled on the issue, as decisions relating to public roads are legislative in character and in no proper sense judicial. When a factual dispute exists over whether access to a public road is meaningful, it is for the town board — not a reviewing court — to resolve, Reilly wrote.

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Ideal Cartway by inforumdocs on Scribd

The town board, Reilly wrote, based its decision on site visits to the proposed routes and engineering reports.

“The town board acted within its broad discretion by selecting the route proposed in the petition and rejecting Idyllwood’s alternative routes. The town board’s decision was not against the evidence, based on an error of law, or arbitrary or capricious,” Reilly wrote. “... We therefore reverse the district court’s order and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

Feltmann was reluctant to comment on the ruling itself, noting there were strong feelings that he did not want to exacerbate on both sides of the issue, but he did note his frustration with Askegaard’s ruling after the appeals judges said the district court had no right to overturn the town board’s decision.

"I'm a little upset with the local judge," Feltmann said, noting parties on both sides spent a lot of money on attorneys fees they would not have had to if it weren't for the district court's decision.

The decision, he added, caused both financial and emotional strain for all involved.

Tom Royce said he did not want to comment on the ruling until his family decides what their next steps are.

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Carrie Allord teaches kindergarten at St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School and likes to expose her students to agriculture.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: IDEAL TOWNSHIPDEVELOPMENT
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