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Land deal grows park space

Land along Rocky Branch tributary's banks will be conserved as part of a land swap deal between the city of River Falls and the Wisconsin DNR. Debbie Griffin photo

The city soon makes official a land-trade deal between River Falls and the Wisconsin DNR that will ultimately create more useable space in Hoffman Park's big eastern portion.

The city gains 7.72 acres of the 16.7-acre Hoffman Park East. The city and DNR co-own the land, which is designated as urban green space that must remain open and undeveloped.

"It was essentially purchased as open space, which meant it had limited uses," said Community Planning Director Buddy Lucero.

The city and DNR partnered in 1993 to buy the land for $140,000. Lucero said the city was trying to add to its active-park space.

He said River Falls has worked toward that goal for about 10 years, especially in the way it drafts developer's agreements. Most of them mandate that the developer donate a certain amount of open space in or near the development.

In this case, the city is trading land in two of its developments to replace the "urban green space" in Hoffman Park. A 2.61-acre plot near the Sterling Ponds housing development replaces some of the Hoffman acreage. A 5.11-acre plot that runs along the banks of Rocky Branch and near Spring Creek Drive, replaces the remaining acreage.

The city had to have the land assessed and trade land that was about equal in value and acreage to what's in Hoffman Park, where the land was valued at $44,000 per acre.

The 2.61 acres in Sterling Ponds assessed at $115,000. The 5.11 acres near Spring Creek was valued at $225,000.

The new areas of urban green space must remain undeveloped with no play structures or sports fields. Lucero describes the open-space requirement as "no permanent fixtures or facilities."

He said, "The way DNR does it, if you want to take it out of our urban space program, you must provide land or green space equal to what you want to take out."

Lucero says the program is designed to maintain the city's open spaces, and the land deal is a way to keep those but also open new park space.

"We're getting about half that property," he said about the 16.7-acre Hoffman Park East.

The land will become an extension of Hoffman Park. Lucero said the city is just beginning to discuss what will go there. It might be ball fields, picnic areas or community gardens.

"What's nice about it is that there is infrastructure (water and electric utilities) out there," said the planning director.

Lucero said the DNR has verbally approved the deal, but the two parties have a few more legalities to take care of before it is finalized. He expects to complete the deal by this fall.

"I think in the fall we'll try to get public input about how people want to use the space," he said.

Public meetings will be a part of the planning process, likely as part of the Parks and Recreation Board's duties.

Lucero said the location of the city's portion - in the center - is set. The site's southern portion must be reserved to accommodate a long-range DOT plan (20+ years) that includes building a horseshoe exit ramp for Division Street from Hwy. 65.