The Tonka Bay City Council has unanimously approved a plan to build townhouses and apartments on property now occupied by a strip mall, despite concerns that new residents will worsen traffic on already congested County Road 19.
“It’s a zoo right now,” said Bob Gonyea, a resident who spoke at last week’s City Council meeting.
Two-lane County Road 19 runs from Excelsior through Tonka Bay to Hwy. 15 in Navarre, which circles the lake to Hwy. 12 and Interstate 394 in Wayzata. It’s a popular commuting route in either direction, complicating travel — especially at peak times — for Tonka Bay residents who live on the highway or use it.
“County Road 19 is our Main Street,” said Mayor Gerry De La Vega.
The project would add 86 homes in two buildings, one four stories and the other three, and replace the north side of the Tonka Village Shopping Center. The Hazellewood Grill and Taproom and existing shops to its south would remain standing, as would Country Club Lanes, a bowling alley next to the strip mall.
Doran Cos., hired by property owner Phillip Jaffe to design the project, presented a concept in November for 126 homes. That plan drew intense criticism mostly about additional traffic, while raising concerns that the development would squeeze parking in the remaining half of the mall. Doran went back to the drawing board to create the downsized proposal.
“This is a much better project than what we envisioned six to eight months ago,” said Tony Kuechle, Doran’s president of development. He said the apartments will create a walkable community with pedestrian access to restaurants and shops.
According to a traffic study conducted in November, the additional households would increase highway use by 18 trips a day. Residents who spoke at the meeting were skeptical about that figure, arguing that traffic is heavier in the summer than it is in November.
“It’s the Wild West out there right now,” said resident Ann Nelson, who lives on the highway, known as Manitou Road in Tonka Bay. “I’ve got people passing on the shoulder, I’ve got people honking at me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got the finger just trying to pull into my driveway.”
Council Member Adam Jennings shared residents’ concern. “I just want to go into it with eyes wide open, that when we get another 86 units, traffic’s going to get really bad,” he said.
De La Vega agreed that traffic on County Road 19 is a problem. “Is this going to make it better? Not really,” he said. “Is it going to get that much worse? A little worse.”
But the project would bring advantages to the community, the mayor added. As the only multifamily housing development in Tonka Bay, it would provide places for local empty nesters to downsize without leaving town. It would help business at Tonka Village’s remaining outlets, some of which have struggled.
“I think it’s going to benefit the community overall to have a vibrant shopping area,” De La Vega said.