A major developer has signed a purchase agreement to buy most of a former golf course in Eagan for a housing project -- yet will leave much more open "green space" than a previous developer had planned for the land.

Neighbors and others who tried to keep the 120-acre area as open space had fought from 2003 through 2008 against the former developer, Terry Wensmann, and his plan to build as many as 480 homes. He had an option to buy the golf course from Ray Rahn and his family, but those plans fell through.

Now, a new developer has agreed to buy roughly 114 acres of what was once the Carriage Hills Golf Course and intends to close the deal next June, said Richard Gabriel, an attorney for the owners, the Rahn family of Rosemount.

"We have a purchase agreement that's been executed, and there is a buyer on that," Gabriel said.

"There's more green space and less density," the attorney said of the project. He added that the developer has yet to submit plans to the city.

Gabriel said Thursday that the developer, whom he declined to name, expects to announce the preliminary plans shortly and hopes to hold meetings later with neighbors to provide details.

In December, the city of Eagan bought about 5 1/2 acres of the 120-acre site for a new fire safety campus and the land needed for roads. The city paid $450,000.

The purchase agreement with the new developer also was signed in December, Gabriel said Thursday.

City officials said they did not know the buyer's identity.

Four years of litigation

The land has been the focus of public controversy, agonizing decisions by the City Council, years of litigation and a public referendum.

The Rahn family and Wensmann sued the city after it refused to amend its comprehensive plan and allow residential development on the land, which was zoned for use as a park, open space or recreational area.

After four years of litigation all the way to the state Supreme Court, both sides entered mediation in spring 2008. That led to a unique settlement agreement.

The first part gave residents an opportunity to vote on whether the city should buy the property. The second part, should voters turn down the choice to buy, was a development plan in which Wensmann would build, but would leave 30 acres as open space.

In November 2008, voters nixed the proposal for Eagan to buy the land for $10 million.

That cleared the way for Wensmann to build, but those plans evaporated during the recession.

Now, the new developer plans far fewer homes than Wensmann had, according to Gabriel.

'Nobody was buying raw land'

The Rahn family bought the golf course in 1996 and upgraded it. But it wasn't able to compete with so many other, longer golf courses in the metro area and was losing money. The family gave Wensmann an option to buy.

After the Wensmann plans died, the Rahn family couldn't find another buyer. Foreclosure proceedings began last year, but a sheriff's sale was averted. That's because the family eventually found buyers, said an official at Vermillion State Bank, which holds the mortgage.

"It's just a difficult, difficult situation that everybody found themselves in," Gabriel said.

"We had Wensmanns that were gung-ho to buy this property and to develop it, but when the economy really did the Wensmanns in, we no longer had a buyer. Nobody was buying raw land for single-family developments."

Ray Rahn could not be reached for comment.

Had the litigation with the city not carried on for five years, Gabriel said, the Rahn family could have sold the land three years ago for a lot more money.

"But it is what it is," he said, "and there's nothing we can do to change that."

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017