Lake Elmo sues neighborhood for use of trails

Hamlet on Sunfish Lake, a neighborhood in Lake Elmo, is at odds with the city over the public use of its trails. (Solomon Gustavo)

The City of Lake Elmo sued the Hamlet on Sunfish Lake neighborhood on Kindred Way for public use of the neighborhood’s trails. 

The city says the trails are public and, after being ignored by the Hamlet on Sunfish Lake Homeowners Association, felt the next necessary step was filing suit April 16. 

Lake Elmo City Manager Kristina Handt said the Hamlet on Sunfish development, like all developments in the city, was required to set aside land for public parks or trails. The neighborhood, built in 1997, included the construction of trails that were to be later handed over to the city. 

“Trail connectivity is important to the city,” said Handt.

Two decades later in 2018, with the city in the midst of its current development boom, city staffers pulled out the file for Hamlet on Sunfish Lake and realized the trail had not been made public yet. The trail, they found, has a “no trespassing” sign. 

“We’ve heard they’ve chased old ladies off the trail,” said Handt. 

The city shared this realization with the homeowners association, which pays to maintain the trail, and asked the group to turn the trail over to the city, said Handt. 

“We got no response. We felt we had to unfortunately take this somewhat drastic step to get a response,” said Handt of the decision to sue.

The city wants the courts to stop homeowners from putting up “no trespassing” signs and chasing people off the trail.

As of April 25, the city had not received an official response to the lawsuit from the neighborhood. Hamlet on Sunfish Lake has until May 6 to respond. 


Resident perspective 

According to neighborhood residents who were at an April 24 homeowners association meeting regarding the trail lawsuit, the neighborhood is about split: Half of the residents feel the trails are private, the other half think they are public. Some feel there is a middle ground.

Similarly mixed feelings were found during an April 25 canvas of the neighborhood.

“It has nothing to do with not being neighborly, it’s about retaining the privacy, peace and quiet that brought us here,” said resident Stephanie Buss, 52. 

“Anyone can walk on our trails,” said a resident who requested anonymity. “This is ridiculous,” he said from his front porch. 

Another man, though, sitting in a lawn chair in the shadow of his garage on a sunny April afternoon, who also declined to be named, said the incoming traffic from walkers, joggers and cyclists will ruin the sleepy, fiercely private nature of the neighborhood. 

“If we see a car we don’t recognize, we call the police. Not just me, everyone,” he said, adding the constant passersby would destroy that peaceful familiarity. 

Hamlet on Sunfish Lake can be accessed by a small road just off Lake Elmo Avenue. The road, Kindred Way, is lined with large homes and about two miles of trail. The entire neighborhood is shaped like a large cul-de-sac with a sprawling field and a picturesque gazebo, flanked by small trees in the center.

It is secluded, even by Lake Elmo standards. At least one resident said the privacy was a factor when they were buying their home and that they were not at all aware that the trail would be made public. There were other homeowners, including a couple who bought their home 20 years ago, who said they were fully aware at the time of purchase that the trails were eventually for public use. 

Members of the homeowners association board declined to speak on the record because of the lawsuit. Two members, though, said the group was in talks with the city about the trail before the lawsuit and that they did not ignore its communications.

One resident said they were against a lengthy fight in court because of the cost to the homeowners association. Others, including some on the board, said they could anticipate anything from a quick resolution to a protracted legal battle. 


–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at or 651-748-7815.

Rate this article: 
Average: 4 (2 votes)
Comment Here