A decade after it was first proposed, the final — and most controversial — piece to three development projects in one of Minnetonka's oldest neighborhoods is now set to begin.
Over the years, two of three projects first planned in 2005 have been developed into an apartment/retail building and senior housing facility near Glen Lake. Now, in a split vote last week, the City Council approved plans for the final piece — a $20 million four-story senior cooperative on coveted lakefront.
It's long been a hotly contested project, with some nearby residents against the building's size and scale on the lake. They also argue that it will add to a growing concentration of senior housing in the west metro suburb. But after a more than three-hour discussion with developers and neighbors, the City Council voted 4-2 to approve final plans for the Glen Lake senior cooperative, which will have 54 units for residents ages 55 and older.
Council Members Bob Ellingson and Patty Acomb voted against it while Council Members Tim Bergstedt, Tony Wagner, Brad Wiersum and Mayor Terry Schneider supported the plan, saying it was similar to a condo project initially proposed for the site in 2006 and will help free up the housing market in the aging city for new, younger families.
"It was a big, complex project," Schneider said of the three phases. "If we hadn't done what we did, the whole area would've been a disaster right now."
Glen Lake, one of Minnetonka's first neighborhoods, dates to the early 20th century, when a general store, Kraemer's, started in 1909 for nearby farmers. Today, the area remains densely wooded with rolling hills, filled with a mix of residential and commercial development such as the popular Golden Nugget restaurant. Even the 106-year-old Kraemer's, now a True Value Hardware, remains open in a newer building.
The recent development is part of broader redevelopment the city envisions for the "village" area, holding community meetings last fall to discuss future plans.
A long history
Starting in 2005, the City Council started reviewing plans by developer Tom Wartman for projects to revitalize the area. In 2006, the City Council approved a master plan for Glen Lake redevelopment, calling for 100 condos on what was dubbed Site A, 32 condos and retail on Site B and 45 high-end condos on Site C.
But the project soon became contentious. Between the city using eminent domain to force out two property owners to the "massacre" of 80 trees without city approval, the project drew ire from the neighborhood.
Wartman also asked for tax increment financing and the city promised $3.7 million to help fund public improvements such as sidewalks, streetlights and a portion of land and relocation costs.
Then the recession hit. As the housing market tanked, plans changed to fit the market and the city had to approve extensions for the project. Instead of condos, Site A became The Glenn by St. Therese, a 150-unit senior and assisted living project that opened in 2011. Site B became 52 apartments that opened in 2008 in The Exchange building, which also houses the reopened Golden Nugget restaurant and other first level retail.
"Some people saw a lot of degraded properties ... and saw this as a renewal and rejuvenation of the area," Julie Wischnack, community development director, said about the three phases. "This project has shifted. When you take on a project like this, you can't predict some of the ups and downs."
Now, the third, most anticipated piece will become 54 units on a three-acre site overlooking the lake, near Kinsel Park off Excelsior Boulevard and Stewart Lane.
The One Two One development is pegged as a way for Minnetonka to offer housing for the growing number of empty nesters and active baby boomers, aimed at younger seniors who want to maintain their independence by owning shares of the building and living in smaller one-level units.
"There are a ton of empty nesters in Minnetonka," said Julie Murray of Shoreview-based Ecumen, which is behind One Two One development with Wayzata-based Lifestyle Communities. "They're looking for something like this, but it doesn't exist in Minnetonka or Glen Lake."
While the cooperative will fit the same footprint of the initial proposal, nearly a dozen neighbors showed up at the City Council meeting Jan. 26, concerned about the short setbacks, the tall building and concentration of half of senior facilities in Minnetonka now located in Glen Lake.
"There were no winners," resident Grace Sheely said after the meeting. "All of us had hope for something better and we couldn't get there."
She lives on the lake and has been involved since the beginning of the plans, pressing the city for homeownership instead of senior housing.
Another resident said an extension of the park would be ideal while a couple longtime residents spoke in support, saying they would move there.
"If we had this proposal today for the first time, we would never approve this; I've never seen anything like this," Council Member Bob Ellingson, who lives near Glen Lake, said, adding that the footprint is outside the buildable area of the site. "… Everyone knows it's too big for the site."
The city's Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 to recommend the council deny the plans Jan. 8, but at the Jan. 26 City Council meeting, city staff said the city could face a lawsuit if the project were denied since the developer and city had a development contract in 2006. The project also is needed to generate more tax increment for the TIF district.
"This is not everything for everyone, we realize that," Tim Nichols of Lifestyle Communities said at the meeting. "We acknowledge the highly organized opposition to our proposal and appreciate the passion."
The developers said they tried to address residents' concerns such as cutting the number of units from 58 to 54 and shortening the end of the building. Now, the developers will purchase the land from Wartman and start construction this fall, with units opening in fall 2016.
It's the final piece to a long process that has left residents like Sheely just disappointed.
"It was supposed to revitalize Glen Lake," she said of the three projects. "And I think we're all kind of sad of what it resulted in."