The Lakes residents upset about losing retail development

When Kevin Bross moved to The Lakes development in Blaine a year ago, his family was sold on the idea that there would one day be a small commercial hub near the beach city park that would be convenient to walk or drive to.

Three different property owners are requesting the Blaine City Council to change the land use for these parcels totaling 17.61 acres from neighborhood commercial to low/medium density residential. The Blaine Planning Commission recommended approval Dec. 10. The council votes Jan. 2. Courtesy of city of Blaine
Three different property owners are requesting the Blaine City Council to change the land use for these parcels totaling 17.61 acres from neighborhood commercial to low/medium density residential. The Blaine Planning Commission recommended approval Dec. 10. The council votes Jan. 2. Courtesy of city of Blaine

About a dozen other residents of The Lakes shared similar stories with the Blaine Planning Commission Dec. 10. Three property owners are requesting the city modify the comprehensive plan to change the land use on three parcels north Lakeside Commons Park from neighborhood commercial to low/medium density residential.

“The selling point for us was we could take our boat, drive it up to a place, have dinner, take your boat back home and now that’s all being taken away,” said Janet Kent.

The commission unanimously recommended approval of Hans Hagen Homes’ request to change the land use and construct 30 single-family homes on an 8.54-acre parcel immediately north of the park.

In addition, the commission recommended approval, with members Jason King and Daniel York opposed, of Gorham Development, LLC and Village Bank’s proposals to only change the land use for their respective 4.64-acre and 4.43-acre parcels at this time. Both are located north of the Hans Hagen Homes property on the north side of Lakes Parkway.

King said it looks like residents “were sold a bill of goods,” but the Hans Hagen Homes proposal is further along.

The Blaine City Council votes Jan. 2.

Main Street 1000’s vision since The Lakes first started being developed 10 years ago was to have this area set aside for small neighborhood shops. Gary Gorham, part of the Main Street 1000 development team, said they have been talking to “umpteen different businesses” with no luck. A coffee shop may make it, but the limited traffic caused businesses to look elsewhere.

Hans Hagen Homes owns about 140,000 square feet of commercial property throughout the metro area and leases to businesses such as coffee shops, grocery stores, fast food restaurants and day care providers, according John Rask, vice president of land development for Hans Hagen Homes.

Rask said changes in the commercial market and The Lakes development plans themselves over the last decade have had an impact. Small businesses want to be located next to gas stations, drug stores and big box stores near major thoroughfares.

Main Street north of The Lakes with its 8,000 trips a day cannot compete with places like Highway 55 in Plymouth which has 64,000 trips a day, yet Rask said he would have had to lease space in The Lakes commercial development for $30 per square foot compared with the $20 per square foot Starbucks is paying Hans Hagen Homes for retail space in Plymouth.

Neighborhood resident Bob Balk understands that “you’re not going to attract a national account here” like you would see along 109th Avenue or Highway 65, but he said a lot of local people would like to have their own business and wondered if the city could explore some financial incentives such as tax breaks to make commercial possible.

Janice Begstrom of the planning commission said the city cannot control the market. She understands that everyone is disappointed and appreciates the property owners have waited so long.

“Ten years seems like quite an ample time to hopefully have some commercial be interested in that area,” Begstrom said. “I’m sure they don’t want to lose the money. They’re devaluing the property by moving it to residential from the neighborhood commercial.”

Less housing density than anticipated

The north side of The Lakes development anticipated more apartments, condos and high-rise senior housing, Rask said.

Hans Hagen Homes wanted to construct a 157-unit apartment building on property just east of the three parcels now being discussed for the commercial to residential land use change.

After hearing neighbors raise concerns that the presence of a large apartment building would negatively impact their property values, the council Dec. 21, 2006 voted 5-2 to uphold an earlier planning commission recommendation to deny the conditional use permit request from Hans Hagen Homes. There was also opposition from Gorham, Hanson Builders, TJB Homes and Regency Homes.

“Instead of having a commercial piece of property surrounded by high density residential, we now have commercial property with single-family homes around it,” Rask said.

Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said this was the only time the council opposed a development in The Lakes.

Although The Lakes was planned to have about 3,700 housing units and is now on pace for about 2,700, the council has yet to approve any land use changes, he said. Townhomes were developed on the site where the apartment complex was proposed that still met the city’s high density land use range.

Seeking a neighborhood gathering spot

Amanda Gregory and her husband commute to Eden Prairie every day and considered living in Minnetonka, Apple Valley, Stillwater before deciding to buy a home in The Lakes a few months ago. The beach and the potential of shops being developed nearby were the deciding factors, she said.

The beach became a public park that draws a lot of traffic from elsewhere in the community, Kent said.

Matt Ricker does not like the prospect of 120 more parking stalls the city is planning to develop next to Lakeside Commons Park.

Nina Guswiller feels The Lakes does not have a sense of community and thinks this commercial development could have done this by providing jobs and common places to meet people.

“The only way we can get everyone together as a community is to keep small businesses there and have it zoned for this,” Guswiller said.

Guswiller sees people walking, running and biking on the trails, even in sub-zero temperatures.

The trails were a big selling point for Debbie Mullen when she moved to the neighborhood six years ago, she said. She looked forward to the day of being able to grab a cup of coffee or soup or sandwich in her neighborhood and was told at the time that the commercial development was on hold, but would eventually be there when the economy turned around, Mullen said.

“I kind of feel duped the way it has gone down,” Ricker said.

Gorham said they tried to get this development in, but it just did not work.

“Since 2003 it was a dream of our development team that would have community commercial there,” he said. “We just can’t make that dream come true.”

Homeowners must acknowledge park noise

Shawn Kaye, associate planner for the city of Blaine, said a landscaped berm varying between four and 10 feet would provide a buffer between the public beach and the 30 single-family Hans Hagen Homes development.

However, the city is requiring Hans Hagen Homes to have all future homeowners acknowledge in writing that their home is in close proximity to an active city park.

Rask said the homes would be similar to others Hans Hagen Homes built in the northern area of The Lakes development. The homes would not be mass produced, so buyers would have more options to customize. He is already hearing positive feedback on the proposal.

“People understand it is an active park and that it can be loud, but that’s two-and-a-half months out of the year,” he said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]