The long-awaited decision on the fate of a lawsuit against the Rushford-Peterson School District is in. August 14, Fillmore County District Judge Matthew Opat handed down his findings in favor of the district.
“It is a relief to have the ruling behind us and to be able to have this matter resolved. The district is looking forward to cooperating with the scope of the access easement for the Paleceks,” said Superintendent Chuck Ehler in a statement.
In 2008, the district purchased a 10-acre site north of Pine Meadows Lane from Moonyeen Claire Holle and her late husband, Richard. Later, an adjacent 52-acre parcel was sold by Holle, by Contract for Deed, to Glen and Denise Palecek, of Winona. An additional six acres was transferred to the district in 2011 to include an access easement of 66 feet along the both the south and east borders of the district site, providing Paleceks access to their private parcel.
In November 2014, the combined communities of Rushford, Rushford Village, and Peterson narrowly passed a $38.1 million referendum to construct a new early childhood through grade 12 facility on the 10-acre site. A year later, the Paleceks filed a long-threatened lawsuit against the district citing damages related to violation of the access easement.
Glen Palecek maintained that the easement was to remain clear at all times and that school construction placed impediments on the easement, limiting access to his property. District construction plans were initially slated to occupy roughly 54-feet of the easement. Structures included a drive lane, curb, sidewalk, signs, and light poles. He further maintained the intention was always to develop the land as a housing subdivision and that the 66 feet were designated for a city street. The claim was backed up by Holle.
It was made clear by Palecek that any plan of development on the 52-acre site would be hindered by the access infringement and had produced a decline in the value of the property. As a second item within the lawsuit, it was requested Opat consider a reverse condemnation, in which a market value on the property would be determined and the district required to purchase the 52-acre property from the Paleceks.
The focus for the district was the first issue; the easement. It was noted the district had no plans or use for the additional site. They countered there was never an intention for the easement to function as a city street and that the agreement provided egress and regress only. Plans for the new school, designed by the architectural firm of ATS&R, in cooperation with ICS Consulting, were ultimately altered in some respects to avoid placing permanent, impassable structures on the easement.
Judge Opat heard testimony from both parties in March 2016. The case was scheduled for trial in July, but the district’s decision to add Holle as a defendant in the case pushed the trial to February 2017. A decision was expected this month and it lands five days before the official open house for the newly completed school.
“Judge Opat declared that the Paleceks’ easement is for private access only; the Paleceks do not have the right to construct a public road or street on the easement. Judge Opat also denied the request to require the district to condemn the Paleceks’ property. This denial also precludes any attempt by the Paleceks to require the District to pay the Paleceks’ attorney fees. In short, the District won on both issues,” said a statement from Ratwik, Rozak and Maloney Law Office, legal counsel for the school district.
The Paleceks can appeal this decision within the next 60 days, but if they do not, the decision is final. Neither Glen or Denise Palecek could be reached for comment on the ruling.
“There are no winners in this matter. As turned out it was an unnecessary and unfortunate use of time and financial resources by all parties. I appreciate everyone’s patience during the process and the ruling on this matter,” said Ehler.