The North Oaks City Council has taken a vote of no confidence against one of its members, who was accused of improperly visiting a private development site with a hydrologist without the owner’s permission or the knowledge of other city officials.
The developer, North Oaks Co., lodged a complaint with the city alleging that the unauthorized visit in June by Council Member Kara Ries violated its due-process rights. The company had a development application pending with the city that has since been approved.
At a contentious meeting this month, the council took a no-confidence vote of 3-1 against Ries, with Ries herself dissenting and Council Member Sara Shah abstaining.
Ries, who has expressed skepticism about the development, had an attorney speak in her defense at the meeting who vigorously denied any wrongdoing.
Mayor Gregg Nelson said Ries should have followed protocol by disclosing her desire to consult an outside expert at a public council meeting and then getting permission from the developer to visit the property.
“It’s bad behavior. She didn’t follow City Council processes,” said Nelson during a testy exchange with Ries.
Nelson and other council members also raised concerns that the hydrologist Ries consulted was related to a North Oaks resident.
Ries countered that she was simply doing research before a critical vote that would shape the future of the city. “You are demotivating people from asking good, hard questions,” Ries said at one point.
The North Oaks Co. plans to build 174 luxury houses, twin homes and condos under a 1999 agreement, essentially building out the wealthy northern Ramsey County city known for its open space and privacy. A three-member majority on the City Council has supported the build-out, noting that the developer set aside 900 acres of open space as part of the agreement.
But Ries has expressed concern about the validity of the agreement and the plans, saying it gives the developer “carte blanche” to develop North Oaks’ remaining acreage.
Although the North Oaks Co. began in the 1990s, its lineage can be traced to rail magnate James J. Hill, who in the 1880s purchased 5,500 acres in what is now North Oaks and turned it into a farm.
His grandson, Louis Hill Jr., eventually inherited the farm and began to develop homes in the 1950s for what was described as a model community that respected the environment. Lots were spacious, often between 1 and 2 acres, and the roads were private. They still are; uninvited visitors who drive through North Oaks may be issued a trespassing citation.
After Louis Hill died in 1995, his daughter Mari Hill Harpur and her husband, Doug, started North Oaks Co. Concerned about environmental sustainability, they brought in a renowned landscape planner who created large conservation areas for the community’s use. New homes were built on smaller lots about the edges of the city, which has somewhat altered its look and feel.
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037