The housing boom in northwestern Plymouth has ramped up this summer, with freshly approved high-end developments like Creekside Hills, Cedar Hollow and Creek Ridge set to join 10 other major single-family residential developments Plymouth has approved since 2010.
The rapid transformation of some of the last remaining rural parcels in Plymouth has city leaders excited, but area homeowners are concerned about traffic, pending infrastructure upgrades and the preservation of green space.
"People that are moving into [northwest Plymouth] right now are probably dealing with some growing pains around them," said City Council Member Judy Johnson, who represents northwest Plymouth. "They have to deal with construction traffic as they are settling into their new homes, they have to deal with infrastructure upgrades … but once it gets all built and done, it will be beautiful."
Since May 15, the Plymouth Planning Commission has approved preliminary plats for six projects — or additions to already approved projects — that will add 303 single-family homes to northwestern Plymouth, a move that will accelerate the area's gradual transition away from quiet rural farmland.
"Right now, what's happening out there is really what we've been planning for the last 15 years," said Johnson, who pointed out that the new developments are in line with the city's comprehensive plan.
The addition of hundreds of new homes and the planned construction of a new Park Nicollet Clinic at the intersection of Hwys. 55 and 101 have some residents worried about inevitable traffic congestion and safety issues.
"The traffic flow from [the Cedar Hollow development] is not going to work … We've got the biggest high school in Minnesota right down the road, and consequently with regular traffic, we're just not going to be able to sustain it; and until they do something different for traffic flow, it's a mess," said local resident Tony Jakubiak at the June 5 Planning Commission meeting.
Discussions with Johnson and Plymouth City Manager Dave Callister indicate that the city is confident that a $11.3 million extension of Peony Lane planned for next summer and a $19.4 million upgrade of Vicksburg Lane planned for 2015-16 will provide two major north-south arteries to handle increased traffic flow.
According to Callister, Peony Lane will be extended north from Wayzata High School and angled to join up with Lawndale Lane, providing a major roadway to help thin traffic surrounding the massive, and growing, campus.
Vicksburg will be redone from Old Rockford Road all the way up to Plymouth city limits, sporting two lanes in both directions with a median when it's completed. Also as part of that project, a bridge will be built over the railroad crossing north of Schmidt Lake Road.
Buying, building green space
Along County Road 47 in northwestern Plymouth, crews are hard at work operating backhoes and wood chippers, readying land for new rows of homes. These developments will broaden the city's tax base and boost the local economy, but the need to preserve green space still carries weight.
"This portion is 100-year-old mature maple woods, and they are absolutely beautiful trees. I understand that [New Jersey-based developer K. Hovnanian Homes] is meeting their requirement … All I can say is that I'm sad to see those trees go," said Len Busch, a nearby resident, at the June 19 Planning Commission meeting.
Local residents Rebecca and Joseph Koshiol voiced similar concerns in a recent letter to the City Council over the imminent destruction of a row of large, mature Catalpa trees when the second addition of the Steeple Hill development is built.
However, two of the residential developments presented this year to the Planning Commission included neighborhood parks in their plans. In addition, Plymouth has acquired 75 percent of the land it needs for the Northwest Greenway, a planned network of trails and green space that someday will cut through northwest Plymouth from Wayzata High School to Lake Camelot.
Plymouth is also considering purchasing land for a 10th playfield, although it was "substantially" beat out by a developer in a bid for a potential playfield site earlier this year, according to Callister.
Local developer Jake Walesch of GWS Land Development said he expects demand in northwest Plymouth to remain steady for years.
"To us, the pace isn't any different from what we were doing [five years ago] … but our main market is projects that are $600,000 and over," said Walesch. "I think what you're seeing now in terms of increased activity is there's more national builders out there now, and those are all primarily under that $600,000 mark, and they're selling more of those because they have more smaller lots."
Construction may be slowed despite demand because of the need to build out sewer and water utilities. Callister said Plymouth will be extending its main trunk lines along the Peony Lane extension next summer, and from there, individual developers are on the hook for further extensions.
This is something Planning Commission Chair Jim Davis wrestled with when trying to decide whether to vote to approve the Cedar Hollow West development on June 19.
"I'm not thrilled with it. … I think this is premature. I'd like to see the other [developments] come into play first," he said, before ultimately casting the Planning Commission's first "no" vote of the year on a residential development.