A decade after University of Minnesota officials first imagined UMore Park as a utopian eco-village, a more modest plan for developing the nearly 5,000-acre property in Dakota County is taking shape.
In June, the University’s Board of Regents approved selling a 436-acre parcel in Rosemount to Newland Communities, a San Diego-based housing developer, for $13.1 million.
Newland aims to build 1,200 to 1,300 homes and a few retail shops on the property, which abuts County Road 42 to the north and Dakota County Technical College to the east.
“We’re just ecstatic about it. It’s going to be an awesome opportunity,” said Logan Martin, Rosemount city administrator.
The land comes with challenges, including proximity to a gravel mine and areas where environmental contaminants — some left over from its use as a World War II munitions plant — have been found.
But university officials and the developer said they are confident about the project.
“We thought it was a very favorable proposal,” said Mike Volna, the University of Minnesota’s assistant vice president of finance. “It’s a very exciting thing for the university.”
The parcel’s location is ideal, said Ted Nelson, president and chief operating officer of Newland Communities. “In the Twin Cities, it’s hard to put together large parcels of property,” he said. “And our company ... loves to do larger projects.”
There’s a market for new housing in Rosemount, Nelson said, adding that the city and the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district are attractive to home buyers.
The company wants to build mostly single-family homes along with some townhouses and apartments for technical college students. Building more affordable homes will be key, he said.
“I think smaller houses are going to be part of our future,” Nelson said, adding that he envisions townhouses starting below $300,000 and single-family homes peaking at $800,000.
Newland Communities developed Stonemill Farms in Woodbury between 2000 and 2011. Nelson said it was the metro area’s bestselling development during the recession.
Nelson said the company has until October to complete the due diligence process on the UMore land, then up to two years to work through final approvals with the city of Rosemount before it closes on the deal. Houses likely won’t go up until 2020 or later.
Newland is the second developer to buy into UMore Park. In 2016, Opus signed an agreement with pending conditions for $14 million to buy 159 acres east of the technical college.
Plans for UMore Park, the former site of a federally owned facility that produced smokeless gunpowder during World War II, have transformed over the years.
The university acquired the land in 1947 and used it mostly for lab waste and agricultural research for half a century.
By 2006, officials unveiled ambitious plans to build an environmentally friendly community for 20,000 to 30,000 on the site, but those plans stalled during the recession.
That idea would have required the university to take on a lot of risk and front a lot of money, Volna said, including the costs of environmental cleanup and general development. In 2015, the university changed its mind, deciding instead to let market forces dictate the parcel’s future, Volna said.
A range of pollutants have turned up on UMore land, said Ed Olson, a project manager for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), including chemicals that are known carcinogens and heavy metals such as lead. But “this small area hasn’t had any history [of contamination] to it,” Olson said of the 436 acres.
Newmark and their environmental consultant will work with the MPCA to sample the plot’s soil and complete other tests, building on what the university has already done, Olson said.
If anything, sections may have been used for dumping by farmers, Olson said. He said any risks will be mitigated and that people shouldn’t be concerned about living there.
Previous worries about groundwater quality have been allayed, Olson said, adding that homes would likely be hooked up to city water in Rosemount or Empire Township anyway.
The 436-acre swath is adjacent to a more than a thousand-acre site that the university leases to Dakota Aggregates for gravel mining. The extraction will continue for several decades.
Shaun Nelson, a Rosemount City Council member, complained at a February City Council meeting that the mine’s operations kept him up at night. Dust from crushed rocks covers his deck, he said.
Nelson, the council member who lives less than a mile from the parcel Newland purchased, said he is thrilled about the sale. He downplayed the gravel mine’s clamor and its possible effects on new neighbors.
“The potential is there [for noise issues], but it’s getting better,” Nelson said.