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A large parcel of grassland that had been put up for possible development received no such proposals — an outcome celebrated by local environmental groups fighting for its preservation.

The county, which owns the 77-acre site in Maplewood, put the land out there for possible development last summer. But it received no responses for that particular parcel located just north of the Ramsey County Correctional Facility, a county spokesperson told Bring Me The News on Jan. 31.

Julian Sellers, a member of the St. Paul Audubon Society's Conservation Committee, told Bring Me The News the group was "especially pleased" about the lack of developer interest, writing: "That property should be protected permanently by incorporating it into the park."

The local Audubon chapter was among the environmental groups and nonprofits that sounded the alarm over the county's plans. They have argued the property, which has had little human interference aside from mowing and haying, is a rarity in the increasingly crowded Twin Cities metro: A relatively undisturbed grassland site that can support imperiled bird species.

"Minnesota has lost more than 98% of its original grasslands," Sellers said, "and grassland bird species are among the most threatened nationwide."

A survey of the land by Midwest Natural Resources, Inc., shared with the county on Sept. 24, included observations of the Henslow's sparrow during the early portion of the species' breeding season. The small songbird is listed by the state as endangered, due predominantly to the destruction of grassland habitat it requires for nesting.

Surveyors also observed seven other birds deemed "Species in Greatest Conservation Need," meaning their populations are rare or dwindling rapidly, and face an uncertain future. They are:

  • Grasshopper sparrow
  • Sedge wren
  • Bobolink
  • Dickcissel
  • Field sparrow
  • Northern rough‐winged swallow
  • Eastern Meadowlark

The survey also documented seven species of bumblebee on the property.

Midwest Natural Resources described the site as "ideal habitat" for bird species specifically because of "its inaccessibility to visitors and minimal vegetation maintenance."

Friends of the Mississippi River, which also spoke out against the development opportunity, cited the ecological survey's findings as all the more reason to preserve the property.

"Given some of these species' sensitivity to habitat size and fragmentation, we believe that even limited development on the parcel would eliminate nearly all of its habitat benefits," Land Use & Planning Program Director Colleen O'Connor Toberman told Bring Me The News. "Humans depend on the natural ecosystem to sustain us and we can't make our environmental crisis worse." 

What happens next hasn't been determined. 

County officials were hoping to see "a range of potential uses" for the property from the Request for Developer Interest, ones that fell in line with broader economic and housing priorities, particularly the need for affordable housing. 

Having received no responses, the county said it will "continue evaluation" of the site for "future development."

Toberman, while acknowledging the "care" county leaders have shown, called for leaders to "take steps soon to permanently protect this rare habitat."

Said Sellers: "We recognize the urgent need for affordable housing in Ramsey County, but it would be a huge mistake to develop this significant grassland habitat instead of building on already disturbed land."

Battle Creek proposals rejected

Ramsey County had simultaneously also asked for developer proposals for The Ponds at Battle Creek Golf Course, which closed in September. It received three proposals:

  • Private golf course (Bradley R. Behnke Golf Management, LLC)
  • Single-family home development (D.R. Horton, Inc.)
  • Senior and multifamily home development (United Properties)

During a portion of the Jan. 18 Ramsey County Board meeting that was closed to the public, the commissioners voted unanimously to reject all three ideas.

“We thank the developers for their thoughtful proposals,” said Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo, Commissioner District 3, in a statement. “While none of these proposals were ultimately selected to continue forward, we remain optimistic about the potential of both sites and look forward to further discussions with Maplewood about future use.”

The Midwest Natural Resources survey noted independent observations of the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee on the golf course property, as well as the presence of two bird species of special concern, the brown thrasher and chimney swift.

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