Easement deal allows development to go forward

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A $20 million development of more than 700 upscale homes in western Cape Girardeau can move forward now that nearby landowner Earl Norman has agreed to grant 1,500 feet of sewer-line right of way.

"I'm going to say it was nothing other than he was a nice guy and allowed it to happen," said Tim Goodman, president of Benton Hill Investment, which is owned by Norman. "He decided it was the least controversial way to get it done."

The planned Prestwick Plantation off Bloomfield Road had been stalled for nearly a year while developers, city officials and Norman were mired in disagreements over 1,500 feet of right of way that ran in front of Norman's home.

But Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson called a meeting of all parties in early March after the disagreements were made public. Knudtson said he facilitated an agreement, and the easement was officially accepted at the city council meeting Monday night.

"There might have been some miscommunication on all parties, the city included," Knudtson said. "It was time to get everybody to the table and really put together a resolution that didn't require a lot of negotiation."

The main sticking point seemed to be that Norman -- who has maintained all along he is in favor of the development -- wasn't happy when he came home one morning to find backhoes in his front yard.

The work stopped for a time, but then Norman allowed the sewer lines to be put in, assuming terms could be reached later. Those negotiations stalled, and there was some uncertainty about who should facilitate the negotiations.

Norman said at the time he wanted a few conditions in writing -- such as making sure power lines were underground. He also didn't want a planned sidewalk to go onto the north side of Bloomfield Road for fear it would hinder a trail project.

Norman also wanted his property easement returned to him after seven years, when he believed a larger sewer system would be needed for the development elsewhere.

In the end, the city only agreed to keep Norman informed about any projects that would affect Bloomfield Road, including upcoming plans to widen the road this summer.

"After we gave him those assurances, he agreed to move forward," Knudtson said. "It wasn't pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It was getting all the parties together and being reasonable and rational."

There was one thing that Norman asked for and didn't get -- he wanted sign-off approval on the Bloomfield Road widening project.

"I told him that was unprecedented and we couldn't give him that," Knudtson said.

Prestwick Group partner Cord Dombrowski said the issue really was that Norman wasn't comfortable with the work proceeding without his knowledge. Dombrowski said they believed it was fine to dig there because there were already city easements on Norman's property for gas, utilities and cable.

In hindsight, Dombrowski said, maybe they should have gone up and down Bloomfield Road and told residents what was going on. But he said several parties told them to proceed, including the city, the county and the county road district.

"It didn't need to be as complicated as it ended up," Dombrowski said. "But now it's all resolved and everyone's happy."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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