For more than 10 years, Julie Butcher has enjoyed her quiet, dead-end street surrounded by woods and wetlands.
The Chanhassen resident regularly takes her family on secluded nature walks on a private trail between Lake Lucy and Lake Ann — one of the few remaining undeveloped swaths in the growing southwest city.
Now she fears development will dramatically alter the environment and hurt neighbors’ quality of life.
Lennar Corp., the Twin Cities’ top homebuilder, plans to convert the vacant land commonly referred to as the “Prince Property” into a neighborhood with 200 market-rate and luxury houses.
“We chose Chanhassen because of how it felt — a quaint small town,” said Butcher, whose property abuts the proposed development site. “Now it’s becoming a little bit like suburbia hell. It’s losing its charm.”
The late Prince Rogers Nelson owned the sprawling 188-acre site at 7141 Galpin Blvd., where he once lived in a yellow three-story house with Manuela Testolini, his wife at the time. The house has since been demolished, but a security gatehouse remains.
Five contiguous parcels have an estimated tax value of more than $20 million, according to Carver County property records.
Prince’s estate put the land on the market last fall, more than 18 months after the musician’s April 2016 death from an accidental drug overdose.
Lennar entered an option agreement in May to purchase the property. While its terms are not public, city leaders confirmed that Prince’s heirs have requested that none of the megastar’s trademarks be used in the new development.
On Tuesday night, dozens of residents packed the city’s Planning Commission meeting to oppose the project, which they fear will damage neighborhood lakes, clear-cut acres of forest and increase congestion.
More than 20 neighbors voiced resistance to the density of the two development plans and their environmental impact.
“Everyone here knows that area is truly a pristine jewel,” said Joy Gorra, who owns 126 acres on Lake Anne, just south of Prince’s land. “Change is inevitable … but let’s not be quick, let’s do it right. Fast is not our friend.”
So far, Lennar has proposed two possible buildouts of the property. One option would subdivide 138 acres into 202 single-family lots for luxury houses, some of which would boast shore access on each adjacent lake. Another proposal creates 199 homesites over 88 acres, leaving shoreline vacant property in an effort to preserve clusters of trees.
Lennar’s largest floor plans range from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, with average layouts of four bedrooms, a three-car garage and possible finished basement, among other amenities. Smaller lots would be reserved for “luxury villas,” aimed at empty nesters.
The company also envisions a public trail that connects its new housing units with existing neighborhoods.
Joe Jablonski, land director at Lennar, acknowledged that it can be difficult to see a natural resource razed for new development.
“The last thing we want is to cause any issues to the lakes,” he assured homeowners Tuesday night.
Mayor Denny Laufenburger had a chance to walk the land with City Council members last month and said he hopes Lennar ultimately chooses to preserve as much of the wetland as possible.
“They have a right to monetize their resource — as long as it’s in accordance with city laws,” Laufenburger said in an interview.
Many residents admit they’ve long feared that the site where Prince once rode his bike would be sold after his death to help heirs finance the estate. But, several neighbors say, they also expected public officials to act as stewards of the area’s natural beauty.
One man chastised city leaders for failing to purchase the property and establish it as a permanent conservancy in Prince’s honor. He then asked Lennar to deed it to the city. The request was met with muffled laughs.
“Prince moved to Chanhassen because of the beauty of this place,” said Greg Stewart. “It is therefore incredibly disingenuous for the city to turn around and allow planning to go forward to completely destroy that forest.”
In a written memo to the city, longtime homeowners Brian and Donna Strauss expressed concerns about the Galpin proposal being “overly disruptive to the environment,” and creating “exorbitant traffic to the broader area.”
“To accommodate approximately 200 new homes, our community will be burdened by construction activity for many, many years,” the Strausses wrote. “We would imagine that hundreds of trees will need to be removed from the parcels in question.”
Self-described environmentalists like Barry Friends, who built a custom house next to Prince’s land 12 years ago, are more concerned about the development’s effects on fragile ecosystems.
He described Lake Ann as a “suburban diamond,” a crystal clear body of water without the urban runoff that many other Twin Cities lakes have. “You put that housing development in there and those lakes will go to hell.”
Planning Commission member John Lietz and two of his colleagues expressed their own reservations about the preliminary building plans.
“I think the concepts really lack a respect for the landscape,” he said to a hearty round of applause. “You will not recognize that hillside.”
The City Council will vote on the proposal Aug. 13. If approved, construction could begin by fall 2019.