One thing residents on Orchard Road in Minnetonka say they like about their street is the view of a tree-lined 6-acre lot that was occupied, until recently, by a hobby farm and three horses.
“It’s always been nice to have the horses there,” said Greg Raetz. “You could watch them running around.”
But now that view may be replaced by something considerably less pastoral, and neighbors aren’t happy about it.
Plymouth-based homebuilder Charles Cudd Co. has offered to buy the property from Carol Bensman, whose family has lived there for 42 years. Cudd wants to build a project called Highcroft Meadows, an array of luxury homes that would sell for $650,000 to $850,000.
Seeking feedback, Cudd principal Rick Denman presented a concept last month to the Minnetonka City Council featuring a cul-de-sac ringed with 19 homes, along with patches of existing woods and a decorative pasture-style rail fence. The target market would be empty nesters who prefer smaller, lower-maintenance yards, he said.
About 20 residents of the area spoke before the council to oppose the project. They criticized the planned neighborhood’s density; the homes would be too “jammed together,” as one resident put it. They also worried it would increase traffic and threaten safety on Orchard Road and that it wouldn’t match the surrounding area.
“We all knew that eventually that land would be developed,” said Trish Gardiner, who lives across the street from the lot. “What we’d really like is to have a developer build something there that is mindful of the character of the neighborhood.”
Most of the houses on Orchard Road are 1950s ramblers valued at $300,000 to $400,000, occupying lots of half an acre or more.
In response to the density complaints, Cudd scaled the concept back to 17 houses. Neighbors still objected, saying they would prefer a number in the single digits. “We expected six or eight or 10 houses,” Raetz said.
Now Cudd has drawn up a 15-home plan that Denman said the company will run past city officials and neighbors.
“I think we have a really good plan if we can gather some support,” he said.
Building fewer than 15 houses isn’t financially feasible, Denman said, predicting that a smaller development would reduce the parcel’s value and sale price.
Cudd has not submitted a formal proposal for approval. City officials agreed the initial plan seemed too dense.
“My feedback at the council meeting was that 19 or 17 [houses] is too high,” said Council Member Mike Happe, who represents central Minnetonka. “It’s a cinch that the property will be redeveloped to some degree, but I cannot offer much more than that at this point.”
Some neighbors nostalgically refer to Bensman’s property as the last horse farm in Minnetonka. As recently as the 1950s, active farms and horse pastures covered most of Minnetonka. About 100 years before that, American Indians hunted and fished in the area’s woods and prairies.
But calling it “the last horse farm” is a bit misleading, said Julie Wischnack, community development director.
“When I think of a horse farm I tend to think of larger properties,” she said, such as the 24-acre former Jondahl farm near Interstate 394, which had horses and crops before it was sold in 2014.
Homebuilders have snapped up several longstanding farms throughout the suburbs in the postrecession building boom.
The Bensmans’ property was once a lively place, serving as a home for sheep, chickens and a llama. The horses were removed several weeks ago. Carol Bensman’s husband, Alan, died in May, and she now lives in Mexico. She returned this week to clear her possessions from the old house and attend a neighborhood potluck gathering. She’s friendly with the neighbors and is sorry the sale has caused controversy.
“It’s a hard decision — there’s no happy outcome for us,” said her daughter, Sara Bensman. “If we could do it differently, we would.”