Golf courses continue to give way to suburban growth.
KateHaven Golf Course, a nine-hole site in south Blaine, is being transformed into Weston Woods at Rice Creek, 70 luxury townhouses nestled around three ponds and a tributary of Rice Creek. It's one of seven golf courses in the Twin Cities — and 18 across the state — that have closed and, in some cases, been redeveloped as interest in the sport has waned.
To the west, developer Mattamy Homes is seeking to turn the shuttered 117-acre Minnetonka Country Club in Shorewood into a 121-home subdivision. Similar projects are underway in Orono, Minnetrista, Eagan and Plymouth. Some golf course conversions have faced opposition.
Mark Smith, owner of Mark of Excellence development, said most neighbors of Weston Woods have been accepting of the project — with the caveat that roads in the area be improved. The new Blaine neighborhood sits on a prime piece of real estate along Lexington Avenue. Much of the 37 acres will remain scenic wetlands, said Smith, who lives in nearby Lino Lakes and used to play the course with his children.
"The city would have allowed us to go as high as 120 units," he said. "We are a lot lower density than was allowed. We wanted to keep the creek area as natural as possible and not pack the place."
The twin homes range in size from 2,600 to 3,000 square feet and have the main amenities on one level: kitchen, living room, master bedroom and laundry. The houses are designed for empty nesters, with more emphasis on large communal living spaces than on the number of bedrooms.
So far, 10 homes have sold. Prices start around $350,000.
In the west metro, Mattamy Homes presented preliminary concept plans for the high-end homes to Shorewood's Planning Commission — the first public step in the lengthy process for the project.
Minnetonka Country Club, which opened in 1916 and survived two clubhouse fires over its 98 years, boasted being one of the oldest continuously active golf courses in Minnesota. But in October, owner Bill Witrak abruptly announced its closing, citing increased costs of keeping up the clubhouse facilities and golf course upgrades in light of decreasing revenue.
"Initially, it was a huge surprise," Minnetonka Planning Director Brad Nielsen said of the club sale. "I don't imagine we're going to have anything of this size [again]."
The club closed Dec. 31. According to the Minnesota Golf Association, it's one of 18 golf courses in the state to close since the last one opened in the Twin Cities in 2006.
Last year, the 18-hole Lakeview Golf Course in Orono closed, and 46 homes are expected to be built on the site. Nearby, 61 homes are under construction at the former nine-hole Red Oak Golf Course in Minnetrista. And 156 homes are expected on Plymouth's 18-hole Elm Creek Golf Course after it closed.
Fitting in the community
In Shorewood, the golf course had hosted golfers, weddings, other events and golf teams like Minnetonka High School's, which used the course for matches and practices and will need to find a new place by spring. The closing has sparked opposition and disappointment from nearby residents and longtime club members, who tried to find a way to save the country club.
But Steve Logan, the Minnesota division president of Canadian-based Mattamy Homes, said the company is working with neighbors and the city to make sure the development fits in. As many trees as possible will be preserved to create a buffer between the development and existing neighborhoods, leaving about half of the 116.9 acres undeveloped for wetlands, trails and public or private open spaces.
Mattamy hasn't yet bought the property, located near Hwy. 7 between Lake Minnetonka and Lake Minnewashta, but has an agreement in place. The developer plans a minimum of 13,500-square-foot lots, or a third of an acre, and the homes are likely to be priced between $800,000 and $1 million.
The project still has a long process to go through before construction, including City Council and Metropolitan Council approval to amend the city's comprehensive plan from a semipublic site to a low-density residential neighborhood. Public hearings will also be held. Construction could start in 2016.
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