Savage could become home to what’s believed to be the first gated, upscale apartment complex in Minnesota.

The Springs at Egan Drive would put almost 300 apartments, a clubhouse, pool, car washing station and pet playground on a chunk of farmland sometimes called “the pumpkin patch” by residents. The entire site would be surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence with a security gate to control who comes in.

A representative of the developer, Continental Properties, told city planning commissioners at a recent meeting that the fence is to “give the sense of security, the sense of privacy” to the complex’s residents.

Far from being offended by the idea of high-buck renters putting up a fence to keep them out, neighbors of the proposed project are instead worried about the addition of high-density housing and possible traffic problems at the development’s lone entry point.

“I’m curious on the fencing … is that to keep people in or out?” said nearby homeowner Tom Gavinski. He asked whether the fence’s height could be bumped up from 4 to 6 feet to provide a bigger buffer to the surrounding neighborhood.

The planning commission unanimously approved the project’s preliminary development plan after adding a number of conditions. The City Council is scheduled to consider it Tuesday.

Unlike the South and Southwest, Minnesota has been slow to embrace gated communities, and the few in the Twin Cities area are made up of owner-occupied dwellings, mostly upper-bracket, single-family homes.

“It’s a marketing tool to appeal to that feeling of being private, separating yourself from people who are not in your community,” said Mary Bujold, president of multifamily housing consultant Maxfield Research. “In Minnesota, we have much less of that kind of feeling. We have a history and culture of being more inclusive.”

Representatives of Milwaukee-based Continental did not respond to interview requests. Savage Planning Manager Bryan Tucker said the fence could ensure that amenities, including the carwash and pet-washing stations, would be used only by the renters.

Tom Melchior, director of market research for CliftonLarsonAllen, called that reasoning “baloney,” noting that rental complexes throughout the Twin Cities area have outdoor amenities but don’t enclose them with fences and security gates.

Traffic concerns

Homeowners adjacent to the proposed project, however, seem to believe the main problem with the security measures is the single entrance and exit, which would force unusually heavy traffic on the southwest corner of the site. The plans call for 288 apartments, each with their own garage, plus 720 parking spaces.

“That’s a nuisance from day one,” Steve Albrecht, a neighbor, told the commission meeting. He and others said they felt sorry for people whose homes were close to the entry at Louisiana Avenue and County Road 42, which would bear the brunt of comings and goings at the rental complex.

City planners have asked Continental to construct a second access point on the north end of the site for emergency vehicles that could be used by residents in the future if the city decides the one on Louisiana wasn’t working efficiently.

The number of entrances also surfaced in Brooklyn Park, where Continental has proposed a similar project. The development has been on hold while the city decides whether to amend its comprehensive plan to accommodate the project. The City Council is scheduled to consider that issue later this month, according to Assistant City Manager Michael Sable. Meanwhile, Continental has agreed to create two access points and substitute berms and landscaping for fencing, Sable said.

Savage residents’ other concerns have focused on such issues as traffic congestion and safety that often surface in suburbs less comfortable than urban neighborhoods with high-density rental housing. “Leave it a field,” said one neighbor, Jim Foster. Unlike homeowners that have an investment in the community, the project’s renters will be “rotating residents,” he said.

Continental representative Sara Johnson told the commission that the project’s design — 17 two-story buildings that look like townhouses — is less intrusive than tall apartment buildings. She said Continental continues to manage rental properties after building them and screens prospective tenants.

Tucker said the project would fill a need for more market-rate rental housing in Savage. Apartment vacancy rates remain tight around the Twin Cities area despite an increase in development.

Tucker said Continental hasn’t provided the city with information on proposed rents at the complex, which would have studio apartments and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. A similar development in West Des Moines, Iowa, has monthly rents from about $850 to more than $1,500, according to the website.