Minnetonka residents' concerns spur scaled-down redevelopment plans

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2013 - 4:21 PM

The Minnetonka City Council will vote this month on one of several recent development plans that residents fear would alter their quaint, wooded, neighborhoods.

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Minnetonka’s 15417 Highwood Drive, a proposed project that would take out four houses and three commercial properties to build a medical building. .

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Growing pressure from Minnetonka residents fighting to preserve their city’s wooded, spacious neighborhoods has successfully swayed developers to downsize recent plans.

In the west-metro suburb, residents say they just want redevelopment plans to fit into their quaint, established neighborhoods, where tree-lined half-acre lots have become the norm.

“It’s [about] preserving the character not only of our neighborhoods, but of Minnetonka,” longtime resident Terri Weis­pfenning said. “We like to think of Minnetonka as this island oasis from the urban jungle. We’d like to preserve that … greenery and open space that brought us to Minnetonka.”

That opposition has influenced the City Council to approve a scaled-down plan for one proposal and to direct two developers to reduce their plans, one of which will be voted on next Monday.

The debate comes just before the City Council will start a broader discussion July 22 about whether to change city policies on home sizes and lots as industry standards evolve. The larger lot sizes that residents have become accustomed to may not be sustainable long-term, city leaders say.

“We’re trying to look forward to that and say, if that happens, what’s the correct response?” Mayor Terry Schneider said. “It’s always a balancing act.”

Unlike cities that chose grid systems or made smaller lots the standard (typical lots in Minneapolis, for instance, are about one-tenth of an acre), Minnetonka has mostly half-acre lots that preserved the topography and wooded areas with rural-like curvy roads and pockets of available land wedged into neighborhoods. Of nine large infill lots left, Community Development Director Julie Wischnack said there are only three or four that are likely to be developable.

“Infill projects are more challenging,” Schneider said. “You probably can’t please everybody.”

Park Valley Estates

Near Minnetonka Boulevard and Interstate 494, developer Curt Fretham asked more than a year ago to built 10 homes on three acres tucked into a neighborhood. He bumped it down to seven, then six homes. Now, the City Council has asked him to come back with a five-lot plan for “Park Valley Estates.”

Over time, Fretham said that he’s adjusted plans to meet concerns such as reducing grading, the number of retaining walls and trees that will be removed at 3609 Park Valley Rd.

“I’m trying to be respectful of the neighbors’ concerns, and I think we’ve showed that,” he told the council June 24.

Weispfenning, who has lived in her 1950s home on a nearly one-acre lot for 28 years, still isn’t pleased with the plan, but acknowledges that it was inevitable that the secluded wooded area nearby would be developed.

“It’s a compromise between us and the developer,” she said of the five-lot plan. Fretham said he had tried to address one of the city’s goals of diversifying housing with more smaller homes. But now, with the city and residents supporting fewer lots, that means, he said, that there will be larger homes.

“The direction we’re getting [from the city] is not exactly clear,” he said. “You give people bigger lots and they tend to demand bigger homes.”

Woods of Fairview

The same thing happened about two miles away.

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