Despite strong neighborhood opposition, Chanhassen’s City Council has voted unanimously to approve plans for a 155-unit apartment building at the intersection of Galpin Boule­vard and Hwy. 5.

Oppidan, a Minnetonka-based developer that focuses primarily on retail projects, originally proposed a 224-unit building at the site last November. After getting feedback from neighborhood residents and city staff over the winter, the developer brought forward a new proposal in April containing many concessions, ultimately shrinking the size and scope of the project.

In the new proposal, Oppidan moved the building to the northeast, shifting it farther away from the roads and homes surrounding the property. It will now be 400 feet from the nearest house and set back 58 feet from the nearest street. Oppidan also will sign a conservation easement with Chanhassen, agreeing to keep six acres of land it owns north of the apartments undeveloped.

“It is better now because the builder cut down the scale some, but I still think it’s too big,” said Lynn Wilder, a resident of a nearby townhouse and one of 652 people who signed an online petition opposing the development.

Increased traffic problems?

The biggest concern of the neighbors was over the increase in traffic coming to an area that already has perceived safety issues.

Cars traveling north coming out of a nearby gas station often make a U-turn at the intersection of Galpin Boulevard and W. 78th Street to get back to Hwy. 5, and a traffic study conducted by Kimley-Horn and Associates found that there would be an estimated 1,031 additional daily trips to and from the apartments adjacent to that intersection.

“That [78th and Galpin] is an extremely dangerous intersection because people come down Galpin trying to make the light, so they’re usually going well over the 45 mile-per-hour speed limit,” said Wilder.

However, the study by Kimley-Horn found that there have been only six accidents at the intersection in the last three years, with no serious injuries, and it concluded that “no significant traffic impacts were found as a result of the proposed apartment buildings.”

Chanhassen City Manager Todd Gerhardt said the city is considering several safety upgrades around the 78th and Galpin intersection and plans to commission another traffic study after the apartments are built.

Demand in Chanhassen

In their most recent quarterly study, Marquette Advisors found that Chanhassen had the third-lowest apartment vacancy rate out of 54 areas examined in the Twin Cities metro. Only five of 443 units surveyed were vacant. New Hope and Stillwater were the only cities with higher occupancy rates for apartments.

“This project fit [Chanhassen’s] overall goal of trying to provide a larger variety of housing types,” said Gerhardt.

He noted that 13.6 percent of Chanhassen’s housing stock is rental units, while neighboring communities — Chaska, Waconia, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Shakopee — all have rental units making up at least 20 percent of their housing, a level Gerhardt would like to see Chanhassen eventually reach.

The proposed site of the apartments was designated for low-density commercial and residential development, so Oppidan will have to get the Metropolitan Council’s approval for a comprehensive plan change.

Paul Tucci, vice president of development at Oppidan, said that he hopes to be cleared to begin construction on the project by late summer or early fall.

“Anytime you do anything big this close to the folks [in the neighborhood], it’s going to give them a lot of concern,” said Tucci. “We would’ve liked to have more density on the site, but we listened to the concerns of the neighbors and the city and tried to make the project the right size for all involved.”

Wilder acknowledged that the development could be good for Chanhassen, but in addition to the traffic ­concerns, neighbors closest to the site also are worried that their property values could be hurt due to the increased noise, traffic and diminished view. “It’s progress for many, but not for some, which usually is the case with development. That’s life, I guess,” said Wilder.