Lawsuit filed by Quail Lane residents
Quail Lane (it runs the wrong way or it could be titled Quail Trail) was a road in legal limbo for years. Now it's a road mired in a lawsuit against Hart Lake Township, Hubbard County, a defunct developer, Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative and numerous individuals.
It's eight-tenths of a mile long, a typical county gravel road that dead-ends in a tiny cul-de-sac. Of the 15 lots in the development, only one has a year-round resident living on it.
The big and small pictures
Quail Lane's uncertain status is symptomatic of larger county issues: Should the county adopt more stringent rules for policing subdivisions, and what happens when land developers become defunct and leave a trail of obligations behind?
Who runs the shovel brigade?
David and Tamara Lindgren are waiting for those answers, which may be sorted out in the lawsuit.
They are the only permanent residents of Quail Lane - and the road runs through their property, not where it's supposed to, in some places by several feet.
David Lindgren doesn't want to own a road and he wants it off his property. Quail Lane is currently trespassing, said Lindgren's attorney Richard Mollin of Fosston.
"It's a real mess and all the abstracts are incorrect," David Lindgren said. "I've been working on it four years and I'm tired of spending money. I'm fed up with the whole situation and it's all the county's fault is my feeling."
The land company
It all began when Naterra Land Inc., a Nisswa developer that sold land in five states, started platting a subdivision near Steamboat Lake in eastern Hubbard County.
Lindgrens bought a lot and built on it. Others bought, but instead of building, put travel trailers or RVs on their lots.
Naterra installed the gravel road after the county approved the subdivision.
But then Naterra missed the mark, inadvertently placing the road across Lindgren's property due to an erroneous survey.
"The township had a road policy with Naterra and we were going to take that over when certain issues were resolved and certain things were in place," said Charlotte Rauch, Hart Lake Township clerk.
"One of the things was there had to be 20 or 30 percent permanent housing which there isn't. And now it seems there's an issue with a landowner which would be David Lindgren that that road was actually put partially on his property. So Naterra said we were supposed to be maintaining that road and we said we've never taken it over," Rauch said.
"They had never come to the town board to sign the papers to take over that road to say okay everything is in place to take it over."
Rauch said a quiet title action took place filed by Naterra designating it a township road by default.
Township officials were flabbergasted. Lindgrens didn't care whose road it was, just as long as it moved off their property.
In the summer of 2009, Naterra, like many land developers hit by hard times, ceased to exist.
Trail to the courthouse
Now the legal morass of who owns the road needs untangling.
"We just need to look at whether we're doing everything we should in these developments when we sign off on a platted subdivision," said Hubbard County board member Cal Johannsen in an interview before the lawsuit was filed June 10.
"The only thing I see is they're grasping at straws," Johannsen said. "They're saying the county is responsible because the county signed off on the subdivision, the plat. So maybe we need to make some changes in our subdivision ordinance.
"And you hate to do that because it makes things tougher on people but you can't have these kinds of problems coming up later," Johannsen said.
A parade of interested parties has trooped down to the county recorder and county attorney without much success.
"It appears the township gets gas tax on it which isn't much at all," County Attorney Don Dearstyne said. "I feel for the residents there. I told the landowners their issue was with the township. Then the township came in and wanted to meet with me and I met with them. I essentially said, 'It's a township issue.'"
But Dearstyne, because he's not the township's attorney, said he couldn't legally advise Hart Lake.
"Boy, we'd really like to get this whole thing resolved," Rauch said. "It's a mess."
Fosston attorney Richard Mollin, who filed the quiet title/trespass action, thinks it can be straightened out. But he said Naterra going out of business compounds the problems.
He said the case is "essentially a lawsuit against everybody in the world.
"In this instance the developer may have made the mistake but the developer is no longer particularly financially responsible," Mollin said. "So the bank who's got the loan has to be joined. They have an interest. There are prospective interests by the township and other public bodies who now have an interest in this whole thing and we just have to get it sorted out and get the road off Lindgren's property."
A new Naterra
"The company that did that, Naterra Land, Inc., is no longer in existence," said real estate agent Vic Peterson, a Nisswa man who sells for the newly formed company called Naterra.
"We have the right to use the name but there's no tie here to Naterra Land Inc. That company went under and none of the owners or principals that worked there work for us. We have no ties to it at all. It's not in receivership. There's nothing left to sue for," Peterson said, admitting he was unaware any bank was involved.
Johannsen said the county is facing a similar situation in Helga Township, where a developer constructed roads that drain poorly, flooding some residents.
"Maybe we need to require more where there's an engineering firm involved that signs off on the road before the plat can be approved," Johannsen suggested.
"I don't know if developers are doing it themselves or hiring someone to do it," he added.
But he said the county should look at fine-tuning its subdivision process so it doesn't get the finger of blame pointed at it.
"Dave (Olsonawski, county engineer) kind of looks at them (plats) to the point that they're not going to be an issue where they come out onto a county road or something," Johannsen said. "Other than that, that's about all we have" to police developing subdivisions.
"Environmental Services looks at 'em to see if they've got a 26-foot top and they have gravel on them and the ditches have the proper slope or whatever and they're not road builders so I've always questioned why we do it that way," the commissioner asked.
It's a question the Lindgrens are looking for answers to as well.