One of the biggest undeveloped residential sites in Edina has gotten the go-ahead from the city to divide a former estate into lots for seven new homes.
Most of the nearly three acres in the Morningside neighborhood have been owned by the Sidell family for more than 50 years. Frank Sidell, who as a boy “had two acres of land to mow ... before any fun could be had,” has spent much of the last year shepherding his family’s development proposal through city channels.
There were meetings with residents of Morningside and adjacent St. Louis Park, long visits with the Planning Commission and plans that were reshaped and redrawn. Though there was controversy at the start, no one showed up to protest last week when the preliminary plat was unanimously approved by the City Council.
Sidell said that as residents of Morningside, a neighborhood with a strong identity and increasing numbers of housing teardowns, the family decided that selling the land in one piece to a developer was not the best plan.
“We owed it to the neighborhood to control what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve seen some stuff happen in this neighborhood that we didn’t like.”
As approved by the council, the Sidell property would be divided into eight lots on a cul-de-sac. One lot would be for the existing home that Sidell lives in; the other seven would be for new homes. One of those new homes would replace the large house where Sidell grew up and where his mother still lives.
Protecting about 50 mature trees was a priority for both the family and city officials. But Edina does not have a tree conservation ordinance. Sidell will work with the city forester to figure out what he calls a “reasonable” policy that will protect healthy trees without tying the hands of future residents.
When the Sidells’ plans first became public, some nearby residents said a cul-de-sac was out of character for the neighborhood. There was conversation about the importance of having the development blend into the neighborhood.
Sidell said Morningside is eclectic, with a lot of different home styles. And the family home, by its very nature — a giant house on acres of land — “never looked like part of the community.” But the preliminary plat has lots that are at least 75 feet wide, making the development less dense than much of the surrounding area. A sidewalk will connect the street to the neighborhood, and a strategy to protect trees should also prevent dramatic changes to hillsides, Sidell said.
He said his parents, Dr. Franklin DuBois Sidell and Iris Sidell, became the second owners of the large home on Morningside Avenue when they bought the property around 1962. His father, a family doctor whose office was just a few blocks away, was a “farm boy who really liked the open space,” his son said.
Two boys and two girls grew up in the house at the south end of the estate. Dr. Sidell added a greenhouse to one side of the house to grow the orchids he collected, traveling to places like South America to search for plants before the practice became illegal. Another greenhouse behind the house was used to raise plants for gardens on the property.
“It was a great place to play, on land rimmed by 100-foot spruce trees,” Frank Sidell said. “It was really private. ... It was like living on a farm in the middle of the city.”
Young Frank’s chores included mowing the massive lawn. Despite the big yard, baseball games sometimes came to a disappointing conclusion.
“I ended up having to replace glass in the greenhouse,” Sidell said.
Sidell said that a few months before his father died, his parents called him in to talk about the future of the property. After Dr. Sidell died in 2011, Frank Sidell said, “Mom looked me in the eye and said, ‘Have you started on it yet?’
“I said, ‘No,’ and she said, ‘Well, get going.’ ”
The planned development has been dubbed “Acres DuBois” to honor Dr. Sidell’s legacy, his son said. While sentimental ties to the property are strong — Iris Sidell still lives in the family home and uses one of the greenhouses — Frank Sidell said his mother is determined to manage things to pass the maximum value on to her kids. She also likes watching construction.
“I was there yesterday and she said, ‘Is there any way we could start this so I could watch this now?’ ” he said.
The Sidells have a year to file a final plat with the city, and after that a year to file with Hennepin County. Sidell said he would like to control what happens on the land as long as possible, “but we’re not going to build houses.”
“The city of Edina has to take responsibility for what goes up there,” he said.
He is not worried about selling the lots.
“The phone is ringing off the wall. There’s no issue there,” he said. “It’s more like holding people off.”