A nearly completed Lake Minnetonka mansion could be facing big changes even before the paint is dry, as neighbors objecting to the project are seeking an order that could compel the homeowners to move the mammoth structure.
Cindy and Tom Redmond paid $6.8 million three years ago to buy a 5,800-square-foot home on Bushaway Road, a narrow strip of land that separates Wayzata Bay and Grays Bay. They tore it down and began planning a new, 8,300-square-foot home on the site.
Tom Redmond is the son of Thomas Redmond, founder of the Aussie brand of hair care products, and Cindy Redmond is a real estate agent specializing in luxury Lake Minnetonka homes.
But their own new luxury home, now under construction, is too close to the lakeshore, according to a lawsuit filed by the Redmonds' neighbors, who include former Minnesota Vikings star Chad Greenway.
The city of Wayzata violated several of its own zoning laws in granting permission for the new construction, they allege. In particular, they say that the home's placement just 95 feet from the water's edge violates a requirement that it be at least 260 feet from shore.
Earlier this month, a Hennepin County judge ordered the Redmonds to show cause why their property should not be brought into compliance with the city's laws. A hearing is set for Jan. 5, and the outcome could be an order forcing the Redmonds to move the home farther back from the lake.
The Redmonds had permission from the city of Wayzata to do everything they did. Their building plans received approval from the city's Planning Commission as well as from the City Council.
But the neighbors say the city didn't have valid reasons to grant those approvals. Its own laws, enacted to protect the lake so central to the Wayzata lifestyle, impose strict limits on the size, siting and type of structures allowed near the lake. They also restrict the amount of impervious surface allowed, in order to control runoff that can add damaging sediment.
Yet the city overrode its own zoning laws and granted the Redmonds variances permitting them to build their home closer to the lake than allowed, construct a two-story, 2,600-square-foot detached garage and exceed the allowed amount of impervious surface in the development.
In an e-mail to city officials, Jenni Greenway, Chad Greenway's wife, said the couple was "naive" to believe that the building permit system was operating in good faith.
"In a city like Wayzata, where there is abundant wealth, you are putting yourself on a slippery slope of the wealthy running this place as opposed to elected officials," she wrote. "We now have serious doubt if residents are taken into account or if money talks."
Rules and fairness
The city has moved for the case to be dismissed. Jeffrey Dahl, Wayzata's city manager, said the city won't comment on a case that's in litigation.
Ken Ehlert and his wife, Wendy, filed the lawsuit last month in Hennepin County District Court along with Chad and Jenni Greenway. The Ehlert and Greenway residences flank the Redmond home. According to Ken Ehlert, the case is a simple matter of fairness.
"This isn't like a minor property line dispute or the size of a grill," Ehlert said. "The key for me is really simple: If we're going to go to the effort as a community to establish a set of rules that we all agree we're going to live by, then we all need to follow those rules.
"If you live down the street, and you were told by the city that you needed to follow a set of rules and someone else did not, it wouldn't feel fair to you," he said. "And that's not a rich and poor issue, and it's not a celebrity [issue]. It's just a regular old life issue."
In Wayzata, he added, some of the most important rules are those protecting the lake.
"In our view, the lake is actually one of the real gems of the Twin Cities area. There's not a lot of metro areas that have something like this," Ehlert said. "You've got this set of codes that are there to protect the lake, protect the shore."
Ehlert said he and the Greenways went through "months of talking to the city and trying to get things figured out" before filing suit.
"If it turns out that I'm wrong, that our interpretation from a legal perspective is wrong," he said, "I will drop this and try to be the best neighbors we can."
Neighbors had input
Bill Skolnick, the Redmonds' attorney, said his clients followed all the rules and made extra efforts to keep their neighbors informed, inviting the Ehlerts and Greenways to meetings with architects, builders and landscapers.
"My clients complied with all requirements, obtained all the necessary city approvals," he said. "Yes, my client is allowed to build on their own property with the approval of the city, and that's what they did." The city has a 30-day appeals window for protesting a variance, he added, and any objections should have been made at that time.
"You've been watching this for two years," he said, "and now that it's all done, now you're going to complain?"
In court documents, the Ehlerts and Greenways said the project changed as it was under construction, resulting in a much different outcome than was approved initially.
The Ehlerts and Greenways have cited several cases in which courts have ordered buildings to be altered or moved, even though they were built with city approval. Skolnick said he's aware of those precedents and will have an answer for them. "Stay tuned," he said. "On Jan. 5, when we submit our papers, you'll see what we have to say."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402