A Minnetonka office building at the center of a redevelopment dispute for more than a year is headed for demolition after the city approved new plans last week.
Residents near Groveland Elementary School and the intersection of Minnetonka Boulevard and County Road 101 have been fighting redevelopment plans of the office building, effectively killing plans for a senior living complex that was five times larger than the existing building.
A developer has now returned with new plans for 17 detached townhouses that he thinks will be better suited for the community, getting unanimous approval by the City Council last week.
"I see this as being dramatically better than that project with the senior living facility that did not come forward," Council Member Brad Wiersum said at the meeting, adding that he understood residents' remaining concerns about too much density. "Even though it's not perfect in everybody's mind, I think it's a good project and I'm supportive of it."
The project, Groveland Pond, will be located at 17113 Minnetonka Blvd., wedged between the single-family homes on Rainbow Drive and a wooded marsh. Since discussions over redevelopment started 14 months ago, residents like Clyde Severson have been vocal about what goes there.
"It's been a wearisome process," said Severson, who has lived there for 30 years.
'A good alternative'
More than a year ago, Bloomington-based developer Doran Cos. proposed rezoning the site and replacing the 2 ½-story, 24,000-square-foot office building with a three-story, 120,000-square-foot senior complex. But it met harsh criticism from residents and was rejected by the city's planning commission for being too large.
Plans were ultimately scrapped and now, Bill Stoddard, Doran's former vice president of development, has returned with a new plan he hopes will be better received by the community.
"I think the city and neighborhood viewed a residential model … as a good alternative," said Stoddard, the CEO of SH Ventures.
The 5.5-acre site, which includes a wetland, will have 17 detached three- and four-bedroom townhouses varying from 2,000 to 2,500 square feet. The detached-townhouse complex, he added, will be one of the few in the area and draw everyone from seniors to young families and empty nesters.
Stoddard said developers could have built 34 attached townhouses, but in a move to decrease the density and scale of the project, it was reduced to 17 detached townhouses.
"It could be a much higher density," he said.
But nearby residents say it is still a larger project than they would have wanted to fit the character of the neighborhood.
"It's really jammed in there," Severson said, adding that he would have preferred the city approve one townhouse fewer and require more safety measures like a crosswalk across Minnetonka Boulevard. "People are going to cross that street … and the cars go pretty quickly there. I was disappointed they didn't address [those concerns]."
Neighbor Seth Boyd crosses the street each day to commute to his job at the elementary school, and also worries about children's safety crossing it.
The city's community development director, Julie Wischnack, said the city is reviewing possibilities for sidewalks on the south side of the street, but no crosswalk is expected at the uncontrolled intersection.
The City Council still has to give final plat approval to the project, which is expected in May. Then, Stoddard said, the office building will be demolished and construction could start in late summer.
Boyd said he's glad the townhouse project was approved because it could attract more young families to the community.
"People knew there would be something there," he said. "I think there were some who didn't want anything there. But I think the consensus from the neighborhood is this proposal was a better option [than the senior center]."
Neighbor and longtime resident Bill Claflin agreed, calling it the "least worst" of the many plans to redevelop the site.
"It's still very crowded and congested," Claflin said. "But it's there; we'll live with it."