An energy-efficient, high-density development in Eden Prairie that planners hope will be the first of its kind in the Twin Cities is moving forward after preliminary plans were approved last week by the city's Planning Commission.

While neighboring residents are still concerned about increased noise and traffic from the 36 homes, the Planning Commission's 4-1 approval sends plans for the Eden Gardens project to the City Council on May 20.

"By nature, it's a unique development in the Twin Cities," said Tom Strohm, who is project manager for the developer, Homestead Partners. "It's an exciting project, but it's been a challenge."

It's taken a year of community and planning meetings to get to this point. The development, which is near Hwy. 212, would be the first in the metro area to be certified as "advanced" under the Builders Association of the Twin Cities' Green Path program. Strohm said it will help the city meet its goal to better conserve water and energy with features like rain gardens and homes that will be built an estimated 80 percent more efficient than typical homes.

Although the project isn't expected to break ground until this summer if it gets final approval, people have already put deposits on 27 homes.

"It's been pretty unprecedented, the level of interest," Strohm said.

That excitement doesn't extend to all the nearby residents in the Fairfield neighborhood. Some have written letters and spoken out at city meetings, skeptical about squeezing 36 homes onto what is now a vacant 8-acre site near their dead-end street. They say the added noise, traffic and dense development with lower-priced homes could decrease their property values and doesn't fit in.

"We're Eden Prairie residents with real concerns. We're taxpayers. We live here. We bought where we bought for a reason," Chris Atterberry told the Planning Commission.

Costly features

To try to alleviate those concerns, Strohm said the neighborhood layout was reworked to align back yards of Fairfield homes to back yards of Eden Gardens homes. Higher-priced homes — $380,000 to $450,000 — with bigger lots were put on the perimeter to better blend in with the Fairfield houses. A traffic study was also done.

"We're open to [other] options," Strohm said. "But I think we've done a lot to address the neighborhood's concerns."

The homes have also gotten more expensive.

The city's initial goal was to have 21 of the 36 homes be in a "midmarket" range of $240,000 to $360,000; that has now been increased to a range of $330,000 to $360,000 because of the project costs. To keep costs down, a pool was removed and homes won't have solar technology, but instead will be designed to be solar-ready if the owner wants to add that feature later.

Other preliminary ideas such as a bike-share program similar to Nice Ride and permeable panels at every home were also nixed.

"When you start adding the green measures, it drives the costs up," Strohm said. Without a city subsidy, which the city was adamantly against, or any other funding, he said, "[a $240,000 home price] was impossible to reach."

Filling a niche?

Still, the city says that there's growing demand metrowide for moderately priced homes and smaller lot sizes and that Eden Gardens will counter the explosion of luxury houses, attracting more empty nesters and young families.

The city is buying the 8 acres from the Minnesota Department of Transportation — land left over from Hwy. 212 construction — and selling it simultaneously to Homestead. That involvement is unusual, prompting some criticism about the city facilitating the purchase. But city leaders argued last week that doing so and changing the city's comprehensive plan was needed to diversify housing.

The Metropolitan Council still must approve the project, and after the May 20 vote, the City Council is expected to give final approval in June.

If approved, streets could go in by October with construction on the homes starting soon after, opening by spring 2015.

Residents like Atterberry will be watching to make sure it doesn't negatively impact their neighborhood. "We don't have anything against the idea of the development," he said. "Is it ideal? No, it's not, but it's still better than not getting any [modifications]. There's always hope for more."