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Parties agree to negotiate on road to Swan Lake

KANDIYOHI -- The parties involved with a tug-of-war over whether a Kandiyohi Township road should be kept private or turned into a public road were told to try to negotiate a settlement by the end of the month.

If they can't reach a settlement by 7 p.m. Jan. 25, then the township supervisors will make the decision for them.

The issue pertains to a 1,150-foot stretch of a narrow, dirt road at the end of Township Road 169 that leads to Swan Lake and a newly platted six-lot residential development called Swan Lake Estates.

No lots have been sold and no homes have yet been built in the development, which is owned by Rick and Angee Whitcomb.

Following court action last year, it was determined the road, which Judge Gerald Seibel called a "path," is privately owned. A 3-rod easement to the road is shared by the adjoining landowners, which includes the Whitcombs, Andrew Lindquist, Mike Peart and the Swan Lake Hunting Club members.

In a petition to the township that was the subject of a 2½-hour hearing Wednesday, the Whitcombs asked that land owned by their neighbors be taken by condemnation so that the road can be widened and improved to 4 rods, which equals a total road right of way of 66 feet.

About 2 acres of Lindquist's land would be condemned under the proposal.

The Whitcombs said they would pay to widen the road to 4 rods and bring it up to the township's standards. They would then turn the road over to the township for future maintenance.

The landowners, however, don't want their private land taken for a public road for the sole purpose of making Whitcombs' property more marketable, said Larry Peart, a member of the hunting club. Members of the club had fought the residential development in the first place and aren't eager to have the road changed, he said.

Dr. Jim Tiede, another member of the hunting club, said the Whitcomb's 3-rod easement is "adequate access" and increasing the road to 4 rods is "not necessary" when the only purpose would be for the financial gain of one family at the expense of others.

The Kandiyohi Township supervisors listened to both sides of the debate, said Supervisor Mike Grahn.

"The town board decided to leave it up to the parties for three weeks to see if they can reach an agreement," said Grahn.

He said the township has concerns about taking private property to benefit another, yet sees benefits in having the Whitcombs pay for improvements to the road now.

If left unimproved, future residents in Swan Lake Estates could demand a public road at the expense of the township.

Grahn said he hopes the two sides can reach an agreement that will make everyone happy.

Peart said if the Whitcombs can improve the road without changing the private ownership and without taking additional property to make it wider, an agreement is possible.

Wally Gustafson, the attorney representing the Whitcombs, said he believes the road must eventually be a public road and it's just a matter of when it will happen and how wide the road will be.

He said Willmar school buses will not travel on privately maintained roads, which is one reason why the road to Swan Lake Estates must be owned by a government entity.

Gustafson said the Whitcombs may be willing to improve the road at the 3-rod width as long as the township is willing to accept a public road of that size.

The landowners and the developers are expected to meet sometime next week to see if a mutual agreement can be reached.

Grahn said the township supervisors advised them to "do the best they could" to reach an agreement.

Peart said he will "talk until the end of time" if it leads to a meaningful result.

Gustafson said if it can't be resolved, "we're going back to the town board."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750