Litchfield City Hall

Litchfield City Hall

Residents of the Harmon Meadows housing development on the east side of Litchfield did not get the change in property valuation they sought.

But they seemed to have grabbed Litchfield City Council members’ attention during their appearance at last week’s Board of Review hearing.

Several members of the development homeowners association attended the April 19 City Council meeting after sending a letter to the Meeker County Assessor’s Office in which they listed 10 factors they believe should result in lower property valuation in the development.

Among residents’ concerns was the development’s private road, Harmon Lane, is in disrepair since the only maintenance it has received was the original layer of bituminous in 2005. In addition, the association’s letter stated, residents pay for snow removal, they receive no mosquito control, have no city streetlights and they live in a mixed zoning area.

However, county appraiser Travis Scoblic said that, based on sales of properties in the development, reduction of valuation was not warranted. Scoblic offered a few examples as part of his presentation. One Harmon Meadows property sold in September 2020 for $246,000, while the county’s valuation for the property was $250,300. Another property, valued by the county at $259,300, sold in September 2020 for $282,750. Three other new construction homes are listed for between $249,900 and $279,900, according to Scoblic’s report.

“I did go back five years and look at all properties, and we’re right on with values,” Scoblic said.

Still, homeowners association members pushed for the change, saying they felt they pay the full brunt of city taxes while receiving only a portion of the services that homeowners in other areas of the city receive — snow removal and street maintenance among the most significant.

However, City Council members and Administrator Dave Cziok responded that as a planned unit development and homeowners association, the group’s issue was with the developer, not the city.

“PUDs are a problem,” at-large Council member Ron Dingmann said. “Unfortunately, this is a legal problem between the (developer) and you. It’s just the nature of PUDs. It’s always going to be a problem.”

PUDs like Harmon Meadows allow, through an agreement with the city, developments that do not adhere strictly to the city’s ordinances, such as the width of a street serving the development. Instead, the developer and homeowners association must maintain the street.

Some Harmon Meadows residents say they didn’t know that, others say that the developer has not lived up to their part of the developer agreement.

Council members were not unsympathetic. But they also did not change their stance.

“This is not the first time we’ve been dealing with the (PUD) situation,” Council member Sarah Miller said, adding that the city needed to more carefully scrutinize future PUD proposals. “We need to be cautious, because this keeps happening. In all honesty, I think you have our empathy. We are hearing you.”

Council member Darlene Kotelnicki, who represents Ward 2, in which Harmon Meadows is located, asked if the city should request guidance from the League of Minnesota Cities on how to handle PUD conflicts. She also asked whether the city could at least send a street sweeper into the development to clean up the deteriorating Harmon Lane.

Cziok recommended against that, saying the city then could become liable for any damages or issues the work might create.

“Sell the dream and service the nightmare … that’s where we are,” Kotelnicki said. “The dream was sold on this development, and now we’re running into trouble. They don’t want this to happen to other citizens. I think that’s a very noble concern that they have.”

Scoblic said the homeowners association could pull together all the information it could in regard to property value comparisons and bring their concerns to the Meeker County Board meeting to make another appeal. At that time, sale prices of the three new construction homes might be known, which could affect the valuation picture in the development.