A plan to remake Parkview Golf Club in Eagan into a large housing development has won approval from the City Council, a vote that ends a year-long battle by neighbors and golfers to save the community’s last 18-hole course.
The 4-1 vote was the final hurdle for Eden Prairie developer Hunter Emerson, which said recently it hopes to begin this summer on its project to build 170 single-family homes on the 80-acre course.
The council chambers were packed Tuesday evening with residents there to make their final arguments against the project, and the council meeting didn’t wrap up until after 1 a.m. Wednesday.
In the end, Mayor Mike Maguire and council members Cyndee Fields, Gary Hansen and Meg Tilley said they were concerned that a no vote might prompt a lawsuit from Parkview’s owners, ensnarling the city in long legal fight like the one it had about 10 years ago when a housing developer pitched a project for a different city golf course, Carriage Hills. “We cannot simply make these decisions based on what we want. We have to look to protect our taxpayers,” Maguire said.
Council member Paul Bakken, the sole dissenting vote, disagreed. “I’m aware of the risks. I’m willing to take them,” he said.
Opposition to the project has been so fierce that last summer City Council members received a death threat as they began considering the plan.
Area residents have protested that the new homes would ruin the open green space they have enjoyed, increase traffic and hurt their property values.
Golfers, who have seen the demise of courses in Eagan, Burnsville and Rosemount in recent years, have pleaded with the city to save Parkview, known for its long playing season and youth golf programs.
Parkview’s owners, who bought the course in 2001, have defended the sale, citing a steady drop in the number of rounds played. They have said the course is unprofitable and that housing is the most viable use for the property near the intersection of Cliff and Pilot Knob Roads.
“We’ve stuck with it for 13 years and made every reasonable effort,” said Robert Zakheim, one of the owners. “Sadly, Parkview is not a sustainable business.”
The City Council said last year it wasn’t interested in purchasing and operating the course.
Last week, a longtime resident who lives near the course made an 11th-hour bid to buy it and keep it going. The offer by Jeff Varela was promptly rejected by Hunter Emerson’s attorney, who said it was unreasonably low.
Varela said his $1.5 million offer is generous based on Parkview’s annual revenue of $830,000 reported at a City Council meeting last year.
Varela says the developer’s bid may be higher — that figure hasn’t been disclosed — but that’s because it would be based on land zoned for housing. “If that land doesn’t get rezoned, my offer is credible and probably even on the high side,” Varela said.
But Maguire said he had doubts that Varela’s bid was credible, not only because it was low but because it had emerged at the last minute. “Why not come forward earlier? Why wait?” Maguire said.
Varela has lived in Eagan for 45 years, 25 in a house so close to Parkview he can see it from the his deck.
Mark Skweres, another housing opponent, is even closer. His house is in a neighborhood bordering Parkview. “I’m one of those people who gets golf balls in my back yard,” he said.
Skweres said his yard is screened from the course with a row of trees. He said that when he met with Hunter Emerson representatives, “all they wanted to know was what kind of trees I wanted to have replanted after they got done tearing the other ones out so they could put in the sewer.”
From the start, Eagan city leaders proceeded carefully with Hunter Emerson’s proposal, wary of repeating its experience with Carriage Hills. Residents and the city fought to prevent that course from being plowed under for housing, and the battle led to a lawsuit that ended up before the Minnesota Supreme Court. The city and the course’s owners ultimately settled, and the site, now known as Stonehaven, is being developed by Lennar Corp.
Mark Wanous, boys’ golf coach at Eastview High School, said in an interview his teams use Apple Valley’s Valleywood as their home course because it is more challenging. But Parkview has long been the course for team tryouts. “They typically have been the first to open and always have been very accommodating,” he said.
Only a few of the almost 40 people who spoke at the meeting supported the development. They included real estate agents who said Eagan lacks an adequate supply of new housing.
Ruthe Batulis, president of the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said her organization believes the city should not interfere with the course owners’ right to sell their property.