In a February ruling, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that cities cannot collect a park fee if the city has no stated plan for building a park. The Puce v. City of Burnsville ruling reverses a 2021 district court ruling for the city of Burnsville.
According to the court filing, a property owner was seeking to redevelop a nonconforming Burnsville residential property as a commercial property. At a January 2019 planning commission meeting, the city voted 4-1 to approve the project, with 17 conditions tied to the approval, one of which was the payment of a $37,804 park fee.
The project applicant asked the city to waive the fee as the proposed project, an auto dealership and bakery, would not result in the need for more parks. At a January 2019 meeting of the Burnsville City Council, the project applicant objected to the payment of this fee. In February 2019, the city reduced the proposed fee to $11,700, yet the applicant opposed the new fee.
It was during reconsideration of the proposal at a March 2019 city council meeting in which one council member asked the Burnsville City Attorney if there was any plan for a new city park. According to the court’s opinion, “The city attorney answered by stating that he was not aware of any ‘actual land acquisition in the foreseeable future’ but that the City typically acquires land for parks when opportunities arise and ‘continually reviews and enhances amenities for existing parks.’”
The project applicant sued the city of Burnsville in district court in May 2019, having been unable to get project approval without paying what the applicant’s attorney said was an illegal fee. The applicant then appealed the district court’s 2021 ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court ruling and sided with the property owner that the park fee was illegal.
Under Minnesota law, “The municipality must reasonably determine that it will need to acquire that portion of land for the purposes stated in this subdivision as a result of approval of the subdivision.” (Minn. Stat. § 462.358, subd. 2b(e). Alternatively, a fee can be paid in lieu of land for the expressed purpose of a new park.
On the city’s collection of a park fee without a park, the court said, “the City’s decision to impose a park-dedication fee does not have a proper factual basis.” On March 9, the city of Burnsville petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court for review of the case. As of publication, the Court has not indicated if it will take this review.