A group of residents has been very vocal in opposition to building houses on the former Carriage Hills Golf Course. But it's the poor housing market that has stopped the development - at least for now.
Plans to build houses on the former Carriage Hills Golf Course finally have the green light, but the project -- five years in the making -- has stalled once more.
This time it's not because of a court battle with the city of Eagan or vocal opposition from residents near Carriage Hills. It's the housing market, and it could be years before anything takes shape.
Neighbors and others who want the 120-acre area to remain "green space" have fought since 2003 against developer Terry Wensmann and his plan to build as many as 480 homes. When voters in November turned down a proposal for Eagan to buy the land for $10.25 million, Wensmann finally had the go-ahead to build. But the developer hasn't yet submitted a plan to the city.
It's not even certain that Wensmann will be the one who proceeds with the development; his company, Wensmann Homes, closed its Eagan headquarters in November and its status is uncertain.
Wensmann did not return calls seeking comment, and Ray Rahn, the golf course owner who entered into a purchase agreement with Wensmann, was not available for comment.
But the city has seen no indication that the development is moving forward, Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire said.
"I don't think it is a secret that the housing market is down and especially in new construction," Maguire said.
City Administrator Tom Hedges said Wensmann and Rahn are still involved in the property and had received preliminary approval, pending the result of the referendum, which failed 53 percent to 46 percent.
Despite rumors that Wensmann has filed bankruptcy, Tom Garrison, Eagan's communications director, said he has not yet done so.
"That's something we monitor very carefully with local businesses, and we have seen nothing in that regard," Garrison said.
'A stacked housing inventory'
In this economic climate, estimating how long the development might take to begin would be a guess, said Don Maietta, senior vice president of urban lifestyles and new homes at Edina-based Coldwell Banker Burnet Realty. But the long-term viability of the location for housing development is great, he said.
"Real estate is often determined by location, and that is a very nice location," Maietta said. "But right now we are still working though a stacked housing inventory."
Maietta added that whoever ends up developing Carriage Hills will likely do it through several phases over time.
Mary Bujold, president and director of research at Maxfield Research in Minneapolis, agreed that inventory is high, but a developer could start working on a property and wait to bring it to market until home sales have recovered.
"They may feel as though they have a lot of other things to do to get the sight ready for the market," Bujold said. "Some developers are waiting to get it online to the market until 2011."
'Worse than square one'
Even without development imminent, most of the residents who fought to keep Carriage Hills as a green space have given up on that idea, said Dan Bailey, who lives near the course.
Bailey, who was the coordinator for the Carriage Hills Coalition of residents against the development, said there is not much the residents can do anymore because the referendum failed and now the city doesn't have much say about what's going to be built there.
"It's worse than square one," Bailey said.
He said he is disappointed in the council's decision to put the question on the ballot when it did -- when the economy was sagging.
"The City Council let down the city by, I believe, not doing their jobs," Bailey said. "We elect officials to make the hard decisions for us. The public and the local residents in every direction on this really got the shaft."
However, Maguire said the city's goals of maintaining green space have not changed with the failure of the referendum.
Vadim Lavrusik is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.