Plaintiff in land lawsuit says outcome will decide fate of proposed Tepetonka Golf Course


— An upcoming civil trial in a dispute involving three siblings could determine whether a proposed destination golf course is built in Kandiyohi County, according to the plaintiff, and despite claims to the contrary from the developer.

Dean Thorson, plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that a purchase agreement approved by his siblings, Dan Thorson and Sherry Ulman, for the approximate 190-acre parcel near Sibley Park will be nullified if he prevails in the lawsuit.

Thorson's comment came in response to recent statements by Mark Haugejorde, representing the Tepetonka Club.

Haugejorde said recently that the Tepetonka Club has a valid purchase agreement with the Cedar Hills Century Farm, of which the three siblings are the shareholders.

Haugejorde said the Tepetonka Club is not a party to the lawsuit, and that the outcome would not affect the sale. The sale will be executed when the litigation is resolved, no matter the outcome, he said.

Thorson disputes that claim. He said the purchase agreement would be nullified if he prevails and that he has no intention to approve the land's sale.

"I don't want to sell the land," he said.

He also bristles at suggestions that the lawsuit is about the money. He said he has turned down subsequent, and larger, offers for the land than his siblings approved when they signed the purchase agreement.

According to Thorson, the crux of the lawsuit is whether the siblings violated the bylaws of the Century Hills Family Farm when they approved the purchase agreement.

District Judge Stephen Wentzell had dealt the plaintiff a setback when he ruled in May that the property was not a farm, since the land has been in the Conservation Reserve Program since 1986.

State law does not consider land enrolled in CRP to be an "active farm," while federal law does.

Thorson said the incorporators likely did not anticipate a differing definition of what is an active farm when they created the Century Hills Family Farm in the 1980s.

The pertinent point for the lawsuit, he said, is that the judge will be deciding whether or not the corporate bylaws adopted at the time still matter. Those bylaws state the land cannot be sold for a non-farm purpose, and also that the land must remain in family ownership, Thorson stated.

All three siblings were present when those bylaws were adopted, and signed the papers creating the Cedar Hills Family Farm, he added. The land had belonged to and had been farmed by their parents.

The civil complaint also charges that the siblings violated their fiduciary duty by allegedly not performing their due diligence in obtaining a price for the land.

This charge can be viewed as being about the money, Thorson agrees, but said the amount that was accepted as part of the purchase agreement is not a personal concern for him. He said his concern and objective is to maintain the land for agricultural purposes.

The lawsuit is scheduled for a jury trial Dec. 12-13 in Kandiyohi County District Court.

Tepetonka Club is proposing a $20 million project to develop the site as a destination golf course. It would generate approximately $5 million in annual revenues for the area, according to the golf course proponents.