A developer wants to replace the Digger's site at Hwy. 13 and Anna Trail with a commercial development, and connect it to downtown. But it could mean taking out some homes.
Digger’s Polaris and Marine, at Hwy. 13 and Anna Trail in Prior Lake, could be the site of an ambitious development that would include a new shopping area and, potentially, a new street connection to the city’s historic downtown.
It's an ambitious plan to build a new shopping area and to potentially create a new street connection to Prior Lake's historic downtown.
It could dramatically improve the flow of traffic in and out of downtown and includes the construction of a much-needed pharmacy in the lakeside city. This big-picture plan garnered some cautiously optimistic feedback from the Prior Lake City Council at a recent unveiling.
But to take it from concept to reality, developers will need to hash out a host of issues with neighboring property owners, the city of Prior Lake and others.
Developers with Copper Creek Partners recently shared their vision with the City Council to build out nearly eight acres of land at the northwest corner of Hwy. 13 and Anna Trail. Right now, it's Digger's Polaris and Marine.
The idea is to raze the existing building, divide the lot into four smaller parcels for commercial development and build two new intersecting roads. The developers say they're already in talks with a pharmacy chain and convenience store and plan to build other shops and restaurants.
"There is a tremendous opportunity for retail in Prior Lake," said Prior Lake resident and developer Dave Rech, explaining that residents are driving elsewhere to pick up prescriptions and other necessities.
"We want to see the small retailers and small restaurants." Rech said.
The ultimate goal is to connect one of those new roads to the south part of downtown at Arcadia Avenue.
"We think it's a creative solution to the problem they are having of getting traffic flowing in and out of downtown," Rech said. "We have tremendous support from the downtown businesses who have seen it. They are eager to help us because they want traffic to flow better."
Rech, who is partnering with Greg Schweich, said they anticipate the city will help finance the new road construction, which would benefit all businesses downtown.
"Yes, there is money involved. It's relatively inexpensive compared to some of the other solutions they've looked at," Rech said.
The new businesses could "generate at least five times the existing tax base, and additional job opportunities," according to city planning documents.
A tricky path
But there's no clear-cut path between downtown and the proposed development. There's a row of homes along Pleasant Street and 18 acres of privately owned land that is zoned for residential development, according to city staff. Rech said the developers are in talks with the landowner of the neighboring 18 acres, Loren Gross.
"I think it's great idea," Gross said. "Prior Lake needs to connect its downtown with its commercial area on 13."
Some of the homes along Pleasant Street would have to be razed to accommodate the connection to downtown. Those homes have been in the bull's-eye before: The city considered a plan to raze more than 20 homes and build a downtown bypass more than a year ago. The council chose an alternate plan.
These homes are part of a transitional area in the city's comprehensive plan. "They would become part of downtown -- they would go from residential to commercial. The question is when and how," said Prior Lake City Manager Frank Boyles.
But the idea may not sit well with those homeowners.
"My Pleasant Street neighbors have spent more than a year battling the city on the County Road 21 realignment issue, so the prospect of another road construction project taking out homes in that area isn't going to sit well at all," said Cheryl Vavricka, who owns the florist shop Stems and Vines on Pleasant Street.
She believes her building would be spared under the new plan but said her residential neighbors wouldn't fare so well.
The city and the developers would also have to work with MnDOT to change the intersection at Hwy. 13 and Franklin and Anna trails.
Open minds on council
City Council members seemed open to the plan at a recent meeting but raised questions about costs, neighborhood feedback and the possible taking of land to build the new connection to downtown.
"As soon as I saw this a few weeks ago for the first time, I thought, 'Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? It's a really good idea,'" said Council Member Kenneth Hedberg. But he said he has a lot of questions about the project, including residents' feedback.
Council members asked about the availability of the Digger's property.
Its owner, Douglas Nagle, is accused of nine felony counts of failing to pay sales taxes, according to a criminal complaint. Nagle owes the Minnesota Department of Revenue more than $600,000 in back taxes. The case is pending, according to the Scott County attorney's office.
"At a concept stage we haven't spent any time putting together legal documents. This is an opportunity at the very beginning of the process for someone to literally throw something against the wall and see if it sticks," Boyles said. "We assume at this time they have standing."
"We have our concerns, obviously. Our contract is sound. The title has been searched," Rech said.
The Minnesota Department of Revenue filed two sales and use liens against Nagle in August and December 2011, totaling $554,000, according to Scott County records.
Rech said the developers are buying the land from Nagle and have been assured that the liens will be satisfied.
The next step will likely be awaiting the results of a study. The city has hired consultants to conduct a traffic and development study of the south downtown area. That study will now include this proposal.
Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.