Minnetrista has backed the plan despite some concerns.
A massive development that would build 1,071 housing units near Lake Minnetonka over the next 10 years has passed a major hurdle and is on its way toward becoming one of the largest metro projects of its kind in decades.
Developers of the project, known as Woodland Cove, received the green light from the Minnetrista City Council on three separate measures.
The development at Hwy. 7 and Kings Point Road will transform 490 acres of farm fields, forests, wetlands and rolling hills on the western side of the lake into a mix of housing, from custom lake homes to row townhouses and multifamily units. The first model homes for the project could be built as early as 2013.
The area includes 1 1/2 miles of undeveloped lakeshore on Lake Minnetonka. The project will boost Minnetrista's population by about half, or 2,700 more people, in the next decade.
With relatively little discussion and after hearing from some residents about increased traffic and road costs, the mayor and City Council voted 5-0 to approve the preliminary plat for Woodland Cove.
"The preliminary plat is the entitlement, the right to develop it as proposed. It's the biggest step, definitely," said Minnetrista senior planner Breanne Rothstein.
City officials put the finishing touches on the resolution last week after the council approved the measure on Sept. 6.
A handful of citizens at the meeting expressed concerns that traffic would increase, and that those near the development would be assessed fees for road improvements.
They were assured that the developer, Carlson Real Estate Company, has expressed interest in picking up most if not all of the costs for an estimated $7 million in infrastructure improvements, if the city offers flexibility in payment plans and interest rates.
The resolution also requires Carlson to build the development in 10 years, or return to the City Council for an extension.
Matt Van Slooten, president of Carlson Real Estate, said the company is likely to need more time, but he did not object to the change. "It's a big project, and we don't necessarily think it'll be done in 10 years," he told council members.
In two other votes, the mayor and council also unanimously approved a plan allowing the company to add 117 dock slips to Halstead Bay, and an agreement that will create wetlands to offset the loss of three small wetlands to construction.
During the summer, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District approved permits for the project, Rothstein said, and the Three Rivers Park District Board also endorsed the layout as proposed.
Plans call for the development to include a 2-mile greenway corridor -- essentially a linear park more than 200 feet wide -- that would link to Lake Minnetonka Regional Park on the east and Carver Park Reserve to the south. It would feature seven private parks and one public park, 5.4 miles of trails and 7.4 miles of sidewalks. It would also include limited commercial space.
Despite those amenities, Jim Blakeway, a resident on Kings Point Road, said many of his neighbors are worried about how such a large development will upset the rural character of the community. "Now we get to drive next to cornfields and beanfields with deer and turkeys and critters all over the place, and lots of birds, and the whole character will change," he said. "I hate to see it happen."
Minnetrista Mayor Cheryl Fischer said, "Because this project will be phased in and care has been taken to preserve as much open space as possible, the impact on the rural nature of Minnetrista will not be lost."
Driving the project in part has been the Metropolitan Council, which wants denser development to support extending sanitary sewers to western Hennepin County.
Blakeway credited Fischer and city planners with pushing the developer to come up with a project that's much better than previous proposals. But he said building more than 1,000 new homes, even gradually over the next decade, will cause forests on the property to decline, and additional boat traffic will worsen the water quality of an already unhealthy Halstead Bay.
"As we've used up all the good, nice, sandy beaches, we push into more and more marginal areas, and this is a good example of it," he said.
The city and developer will next negotiate a "master development agreement" by the end of the year that will lay out details about what fees and payment schedules the developer will pay for sewer and water, connection fees and other infrastructure costs. Rothstein said.
After that, Carlson will seek approval in 2012 for a final plat for the first phase of the project: 96 units that include about nine of the most expensive custom lake homes and a mix of large, medium and small single family homes. It will also include improvements to Hwy. 7 and County Road 11.
"I doubt that we will see anything in the way of model homes before 2013," said Fischer, "or maybe later, depending on market conditions and the developer's plans."
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388