Wayzata's planning commission didn't vote Monday night, but the people did. And in this city, on this project, the people's vote counts.
More than 350 residents, business owners and city officials packed the seats and stairs of a church basement to discuss a proposal that could transform Wayzata's downtown.
Presbyterian Homes and Services wants to redevelop the Wayzata Bay Center, a one-story strip mall that sits on 14 acres of prime real estate and makes up two-thirds of the city's downtown retail base.
It hopes its plans for a $150-million retail, office and residential district, broken into six blocks and five buildings, will win approval where other developers' plans have failed.
The group that the nonprofit has formed to manage the redevelopment, the Wayzata Bay Redevelopment Company, has spent almost a year watching video of past public hearings, researching discarded proposals and gathering community input. They said they hoped to avoid the pitfalls of past developers' proposals, which failed to get city approval in part due to public opposition.
The majority of those who spoke Monday -- 36 of 48 people -- supported the project. Many said the small but affluent city's future depends on bringing in more people to live and shop.
"Oftentimes, when we're sitting in these lonely seats up here, the only people sitting in the audience are people who are against something," said Greg Rye, a longtime resident and former City Council member. "The silent majority of Wayzata is coming out. Something is happening."
Many said the redevelopment company's meetings with residents and officials have built more trust than existed with previous proposals. Presbyterian Homes "has brought in a real feeling of fresh air about the whole thing," said resident Dave Lentz.
But the project's opponents, and even some of its supporters, said they're concerned about the plan's density and height.
Its five buildings -- containing 130,000 square feet of retail, 30,000 square feet of office space, a 475-unit mix of senior and conventional housing and possibly a hotel -- will range from two to five stories.
Those numbers are bigger than past proposals. In 2004, Madison Marquette planned a $50 million redevelopment, and in 2005, United Properties followed with a $100 million plan. Both called for a maximum height of three stories.
But architects for the Wayzata Bay Redevelopment Company said the height is necessary to create an economically feasible and good-looking development.
"A 15-acre development with all three-story roofs would not be very attractive," the company said in a "frequently asked questions" sheet handed out to the meeting's attendees.
The planning commission could vote on the plan Monday, with the City Council reviewing it in December. After that, the city would consider more detailed plans and a request for tax increment financing.
City staff members have recommended that the planning commission approve these first plans, with conditions. City Planner Loren Gordon cited the project's character, retail space and environmental qualities as reasons to support the project.
The Bay Center site is now 98 percent paved. Presbyterian Homes would reduce that to 75 percent -- "a huge improvement," Gordon said. The proposal includes a public plaza, "something we've struggled to get in the other development proposals," he said.
Gordon also dealt with the United Properties' proposal. Many people also packed that project's hearings, but a slight majority of those opposed the project, he said, and both sides were more organized.
"It was a more polarizing thing," he said. "It was downright divisive. With this project, there were more people who said, 'I like this project, but...' or 'I like this project but I still have concerns...' There's a different feel."
Jenna Ross 612-673-7168