An overflow crowd of about 150 jammed a hearing Tuesday in Chanhassen to discuss what to do with a large tract of land once owned by Prince, but no clear consensus emerged among those who spoke.
Lennar Corp. wants to develop a neighborhood of market-rate and luxury houses on the sprawling 188-acre site, which lies between Galpin Boulevard and the shore of Lake Ann. It has presented a proposal that would require the city's approval of a planned unit development (PUD) involving a "transfer of density" — a zoning shift that would cluster 181 homes on one side of the property and leave about 50 acres as undeveloped woods and wetlands along the lake for a park.
If the city does not approve the PUD and density transfer, Lennar could develop the land under existing zoning laws, potentially spreading homes throughout the tract and the lakeshore area.
The City Council is expected to vote on the issue Monday, which state law has set as the deadline for responding to Lennar's request.
Mayor Elise Ryan said Wednesday that she hasn't decided whether to support the PUD, but added that there was "more work to be done" to improve Lennar's concept. She said she was working on specifics that she will discuss at Monday's meeting, perhaps involving buffers between neighborhoods, tree preservation and housing density.
"This is a gem of a property, and it's not just because of the legacy of Prince but because it's a spectacular piece of property," Ryan said. The development, she said, "should not just be, save the [wooded lakeshore] park" but "save the entire piece of property."
Moreover, she said, Lennar may find that the property's wetlands and topography prevent building in some areas.
At Tuesday's hearing, some residents praised the idea of setting aside the 50 acres for wildlife and walking trails and urged city officials to preserve that land while it still can.
"There's a much bigger natural area for wildlife that people will enjoy for years to come," said Alan Nikolai, who has lived nearby for 60 years.
Residents of neighborhoods surrounding the property expressed concern that Lennar's proposal would create problems with traffic, pedestrian safety and water runoff. Residents whose homes look out on the property complained that the development would ruin their views.
Some at the meeting urged city officials to reject Lennar's proposals, buy the whole property and turn it into a park.
"I don't think it's an either/or," said Matthew Myers. "Chanhassen is never going to see a piece of property like this again. We can say no to it all — be creative, preserve the land for the next generation."
Council Member Jerry McDonald said in an interview Wednesday that it's not practical for the city to buy the property because it would cost $10 million or more and require a referendum. Nor can the city prevent Lennar from developing the property in accordance with existing zoning laws, he said, which could result in a "cookie-cutter" neighborhood of similar homes.
Prince once lived in a yellow three-story house on the property at 7141 Galpin Blvd. The house has since been demolished, but a security gatehouse remains. Paisley Park, his former studio and home, is across nearby Hwy. 5.
Prince's estate put the land on the market after his death in April 2016 from an accidental drug overdose. His heirs have asked that the developers not capitalize on the land's connection with the late megastar.
But Joe Jablonski, Lennar's land director, said that landscaping near the entrances to the development could include purple flowers "to honor the previous owner without going too far over the top."