Katherine Gayl feels the change every time she turns off the asphalt and onto the gravel road leading to her secluded Rosemount neighborhood.
Behind her is the noise and congestion of the city. Ahead is the quiet and calm of a spacious neighborhood defined by houses that sit acres apart.
Gayl and her husband spent two years searching for the perfect spot to raise their children after leaving New York City. They found it on the north side of Rosemount — a setting that reminds Gayl, who is Russian, of her childhood on the Baltic Sea.
But plans for a new housing development recently approved by the Rosemount City Council threaten to alter the look and feel of her neighborhood. So, too, does a potential paving project along nearby Dodd Road. The road is part of a network of historic routes dating to the mid-19th century, and the stretch of road near Gayl’s home has never been paved.
Some residents have complained to the city about the projects, and contend Rosemount officials have largely ignored their concerns. City officials say the changes won’t be particularly jarring, and actually will be less radical than development in other parts of Rosemount.
“From the city’s perspective, if we felt that was a dramatic change, we wouldn’t have supported it,” said Kim Lindquist, Rosemount’s community development director.
Preserving natural space
Changes in Rosemount are much like the growing pains in other parts of the outer metro area, and point to the increasing difficulty of finding rural space within reach of urban amenities.
The Metropolitan Council has identified Rosemount as a developing community. Because of that, Lindquist said, urban development will dominate over time, except on the northern side of the city, which will continue to be designated as rural.
“We are really part of the metro area,” she said, “and so the expectation is that over time, this will be a fully developed community.”
Gayl’s neighborhood, where many homes occupy several acres, draws residents in search of rural life within reach of the city.
“You drive down the road, you don’t even feel like you’re in the Twin Cities area,” said David Senechal, 61, who has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years.
The proposed Wilde Lake Estates development, set to fill about 56 acres, will contain 14 single-family homes, each sitting on a minimum of 2 acres of land — half an acre less than the minimum lot size for standard “rural residential” zoning. The new homes are expected to list for $600,000 to $800,000.
To accommodate that many new units, the city approved alterations to the “rural residential” designation that will allow it to obtain additional land for a trail that runs through the area.
“It’s a negotiation,” said Rosemount senior planner Eric Zweber. “The developer gets something in exchange for the city to get something.”
But homeowners worry that Wilde Lake Estates could threaten existing natural space. About 22 of the development’s 56 acres include a lake and surrounding wetlands.
Gayl described the proposed development as “tiny little lots with septic systems right against the wildlife refuge areas. And then we’re going to live with that.”
Changes to Dodd Road
Over the summer, the Rosemount Planning Commission identified future upgrades to Dodd Road — in Gayl’s neighborhood it is called Dodd Boulevard — as “the main issue with the project.”
To develop along the road, Friedges Excavating would have had to pay Rosemount about $195,000 in escrow for future paving. But because the city hadn’t planned to pave the road in the near future, Friedges offered to install the upgrade on its own.
Doing so would involve cutting into two properties, including one belonging to Carol Groff and her husband, who recently built a retirement home on Dodd Road.
Groff, 57, grew up in Rosemount. She has concerns that converting the road from gravel to asphalt will result in the road losing its “country feel.”
“It’s disheartening that we just built this big, nice retirement home, and that we have to deal with all of these issues,” Groff said.
To stave off paving, homeowners have tried unsuccessfully to get historic designation for their stretch of Dodd Road. Parts of the road that run through Rice and Le Sueur counties already are designated as historic, but those stretches are both paved and longer than that in Rosemount.
For a road to be designated as historic, its original use has to be recognizable to visitors, said National Register archaeologist Dave Mather. Much of Dodd Road has remained intact since it was built to link St. Peter and Mendota in the 1850s. But like many Minnesota roadways, it’s been changed over time.
“Ironically, if it’s still in use, it has to be updated and updated again,” Mather said. “And that tends to destroy the historic integrity.”
Still, a place doesn’t have to be listed on the national register in order to be historic, he said. And even if it is listed, that doesn’t guarantee protection.
Unless the two homeowners change their minds about giving up a chunk of their property, Dodd Road will stay the same — for now.
Still, residents worry. Among their concerns: the cost of assessments when the road is finally paved and the traffic that could follow. They also fear that the zoning change could set a precedent and alter the neighborhood’s character.
“Right now there’s no homes,” said Troy Friedges, the real estate agent who has handled the land sale. “There’s an old dilapidated farmhouse and old dilapidated buildings on the 56 acres, so it’s going to change it in the fact that all of that’s going to get taken away and cleaned up and there’s going to be 14 beautiful new homes out there.”
Homeowners say they’re not opposed to development — they just don’t want sweeping change.
“We want it done. We want new neighbors,” Gayl said. “We just want to make sure that the city takes care of the residents.”