Mendota Heights Cancel Landscaping For Owner Without Permit

City officials in Mendota Heights recently put a stop to ambitious clifftop landscaping after discovering the owner was grading and landscaping about 10,000 square feet without a permit.

The wooded bluff river property that Michael Frattallone bought in February from real estate developer Jerry Trooien is in the critical area of ​​the Mississippi River Corridor, a protected 72-mile stretch of the river that winds through the Twin Cities.

Although the cliffs in question are not directly on the Mississippi River but set back approximately 1,000 feet, they are protected by development rules intended to protect scenic beauty, water quality and wildlife habitat. from the river. The fragile and steep cliffs of the river were the focus of the joint program.

After concerned neighbors alerted the city to the construction, the contractors were told they had to stop until they had a permit.

Mendota Heights requires a critical area permit for land alterations over 1,000 square feet, and contractors have been leveling about 10,000 square feet, said Mendota Heights Director of Public Works Ryan Ruzek.

“I think that’s really the biggest problem there,” Ruzek said. “The cliffs are very important and must be protected.”

Contractors weren’t removing trees on the bluff for a view or working against the edge, but major lawn work included installing a sand volleyball court, Ruzek said. There are potential erosion issues.

Frattallone declined to comment. Equipment on the property was inactive Thursday. Tim Benetti, the city’s director of community development, said city officials met with Frattallone on Monday and said he was applying for a critical area permit and would not be fined.

Frattallone has no plans to build another structure on the lot, Benetti said.

“That was the case with Mr. Frattallone being a new resident,” Benetti said. “He apologized and mentioned he would go talk to the neighbours.”

Benetti said Mendota Heights is seeing an influx of new residents with the “incredibly heady” housing market. Landlords typically alert the city to major projects, he said. The city’s website displays information about the Critical Area Permit.

Colleen O’Connor Toberman, director of the land use and planning program for Friends of the Mississippi River, said the situation doesn’t surprise her. Despite having been around since 1976, the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Zone and its rules are not well understood, although they have been effective.

“Sometimes people are surprised to learn that their property that is not directly on the river is subject to river protections,” she said.

Mendota Heights is particularly strict on enforcement, O’Connor Toberman said: “It’s the only city that requires permits for almost everything you do in the Critical Zone.”

“It’s really up to cities to raise awareness and educate landlords about these requirements,” she said.

Critical zone rules require specific structural setbacks and height limits and prohibit clearcutting in certain areas. They also prohibit the extensive removal of vegetation in sensitive areas like shorelines and set design standards for features such as stairs leading to water.

Neighbors Anne and Andy Garner, whose backyard overlooks Frattallone’s courtyard, were relieved to learn that Frattallone was setting up a volleyball court and not a large building.

“As long as they do it the right way,” Anne Garner said. “We are all bound to the same central hallway.”

Neighbor Daren Carlson, whose home also adjoins the property, said he remains cautious and would like to see a plan for the property given the sensitive nature of the hallway. He noted that contractors filled in the rain garden that Trooien had installed to filter runoff.

“What’s the plan if it’s not going to be developed?” said Carlson, who works as a nongame wildlife research scientist with the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Frattallone purchased both lots at 1010 Sibley Memorial Hwy. in February from Trooien for $1.64 million, according to property records. There is a 6,800 square foot house and a swimming pool. Trooien is well known for its efforts in the 2000s to redevelop part of Saint-Paul’s waterfront with the “Ponts de Saint-Paul” complex, which fizzled.

The recent grading work at issue was split across the two lots, Ruzek said.

Trooien had his own run-in with the city over land works a few years ago when he cleared a large amount of vegetation in preparation for a new construction site, according to city records. The second structure was never built.

Cities are in the process of updating their zoning regulations to comply with the critical zone rules that the legislature asked the DNR to create. The rules were adopted in 2017. It is up to the 21 cities in the corridor to enforce the zoning regulations.

Mendota Heights has completed this update process. The same is true for Minneapolis, but not for St. Paul, O’Connor Toberman said.

MNR land use specialist Dan Petrik said citizens need to know they live in cities with standards and regulations on moving earth and cutting vegetation.

The 10,000 square foot change is significant, Petrik said: “It’s quite a large area.”

Terri S. Tomasini