Upset by what they viewed as a chilly reception at City Hall, residents of Minnetonka's Oak Knoll Terrace neighborhood are taking their case to the Internet.
They have started a website to communicate with other Minnetonka residents about city issues, airing grievances about their own recent dealings with city officials and warning other residents to beware -- that they could be next.
"We all live very busy lives, and it is difficult to find the time to get neighbors organized and communicate about community concerns by going door to door," said Ed Wons, builder of the site, found at www.cfrdmtka.org.
"As we have experienced, simply showing up and speaking at a Planning Commission meeting is completely ineffective. I felt we needed to do something different to rebalance the equation" and hold city government more accountable, Wons said.
Wons and his neighbors Jim Fredkove and Gordon Olson were unhappy with the way the city staff and Planning Commission gave Opus Northwest a green light recently to build four stories high on land zoned for three stories at Interstate 394 and Hopkins Crossroads. They also said the city had not done as much as they would have liked to buffer their homes from the office complex.
On their website, they note: "It is difficult for small groups of residents to share information and organize their efforts to gain a meaningful voice in shaping the future of our community.
"This website is designed to help overcome this problem by providing links to relevant information, allowing residents to share comments and to coordinate the effort required to have a meaningful impact on development within the City of Minnetonka."
Links included on the site range from the city Comprehensive Guide Plan and city ordinances to discussion forums on key projects.
What the city and firm say
City Planner Julie Wischnack said she understands that neighbors would be upset about this redevelopment. She said that she has met with the property owners several times and that the city tried to find a balance among the interests of the 17 homeowners who wanted to sell their property to the developer, the residents who will continue to live nearby and the developer, she said.
City staff members agreed to allow one four-story office building and one three-story office building in exchange for making the footprint of the development smaller, leaving more green space, Wischnack said.
The area has been targeted for redevelopment from residential to office for 20 years. Opus proposed plans for a 14-acre office complex in September.
The corporation took neighbor concerns seriously, made some changes in response to them and is providing extensive landscaping, said Dave Menke, vice president of real estate development for Opus Northwest.
"We think we are putting forward a responsible plan" that delivers on many of the city goals for the property, Menke said. The project is valued at about $70 million.
'Nothing against Opus'
Wons, Fredkove and Olson said they are not opposed to development but to the way they were treated. They thought homeowners would get better protection from the city.
"We invited the Planning Commission -- we contacted each one of them and asked them to come out and walk the property and look at this and listen to our concerns. And only one of them showed up," Wons said.
"We have nothing against Opus," Wons said. "All we are asking is to scale the project down a bit so it meets the objectives outlined in the guide plan.''
Olson, a 30-year resident of Minnetonka, said the Opus development will change the view from his back door from an open meadow to a parking ramp just 123 feet away.
"This is a unique situation. This is the only project where they are putting a multi-story parking lot right up against R1 [residential zoning]," Olson said. "Needless to say, the value goes down on my property."
When he went to the Planning Commission, Olson said, "I literally felt like I had been steamrolled.''
What do homeowners have a right to expect from the commission?
Wischnack said, "The Planning Commission's role is to hear from people about the project. They have to analyze what the neighborhood is saying and balance that with what the city code says.''
Commission chairwoman Sandal Hart said she had no comment on this matter and never comments outside of meetings.
Fredkove said the website will let other residents know Oak Knoll Terrace residents' concerns.
"The purpose is to get this information out to the rest of the community, that these things are going to continue to happen in the city and we need to be better prepared as homeowners in protecting our property values, because if we don't the developers are going to take advantage of this,'' Fredkove said.
The Oak Knoll group has requested further environmental review of the development. The City Council is scheduled to vote on that request on Monday.
Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711