The hotly debated transformation of Orono’s Lakeview Golf Course to a housing development is moving forward, but with an unusual twist.
The citizens’ group that fought the project has wound up working with the developer to jointly create a new privately owned, publicly accessible park on part of the site. Plans call for trails, benches and a small shelter surrounded by native trees, plants, flowers and wetland features.
Citizens for Lakeview Preservation, the residents’ organization, is in the early stages of raising $250,000 for its share of the $500,000 park project.
Source Land Development has agreed to match those funds, with its donation including a 4.5-acre parcel where the park will be developed. Source Land had planned to develop the parcel as a lot for a home. The development will have lots for 46 homes priced from $1 million to $1.5 million, according to Pat Hiller, a partner for the Plymouth firm.
“It’s a highly unusual arrangement,” said Hiller of the cooperative park venture. Across the Twin Cities, residents have battled with developers and city leaders to keep golf courses from turning into housing developments.
In Orono, the citizens’ group gathered more than 1,000 signatures on petitions asking that the 143-acre golf course remain open public space. Residents packed City Council meetings voicing their opposition, but the council approved the project in 2014.
“There was a lot of sadness, a lot of cynicism, a lot anger after that happened,” said Bryce Johnson, chairman of the citizens’ group and a longtime resident of the area near the old golf course. What troubled people most was that no land had been set aside for public use, he said.
About a year ago, the citizens’ group approached Source Land with the idea of carving out a portion of the site for public space.
“There were some in the group, including myself, that decided to be pragmatic. It was a case of ‘Something is better than nothing. Let’s see what’s possible,’ ” Johnson said. “We each had an objective here, maybe we could work for a common goal.”
Hiller agreed, adding that the developers decided eliminating one home to make way for the small park made business sense.
“We see it as kind of a mini-arboretrum, a nice place to walk and think, and an amenity,” Hiller said.
Johnson said the new homeowners’ association will hold the title to the park parcel and eventually be responsible for maintaining it. The park will include a conservation easement that will be owned by the homeowners’ association and the citizens’ group, which was established as a nonprofit organization.
Johnson said his group hopes to have its share of the park funds raised in two months. The group already has received some pledges, with one potential donor pledging to match the first $100,000 raised by the group. It plans to solicit donations with mailings, door-to-door visits to area residents and at a display at next month’s James J. Hill Days community event in Wayzata, he said.