Blaine council approves land use change in The Lakes

The Blaine City Council Feb. 6 gave three property owners the go-ahead to consider residential instead of commercial developments on 17.61 acres north of the Lakeside Commons Park beach.

This was not the news that neighbors wanted to hear. At a Dec. 10, 2013 Blaine Planning Commission public hearing and council meetings Jan. 2 and Feb. 6, the consistent message from residents was that they had been told before they moved in that these properties would include shops and restaurants once the economy improved.

The council tabled action Jan. 2 to give the neighborhood and property owners more time, but no concrete options have been presented.

“The economics aren’t there to make it work,” said John Rask, vice president of land development for Hans Hagen Homes, which also received 6-0 council approval Feb. 6 to construct 30 homes on 8.54 acres on the north side of the beach near the volleyball court.

Just across Lakes Parkway is a 4.64-acre parcel owned by Gorham Development, LLC and a 4.43-acre parcel owned by Village Bank. Unlike Hans Hagen Homes, these property owners did not present a specific housing proposal, but all three received 6-0 council approval to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to change the land use from neighborhood commercial to low-medium density residential.

Councilmember Kathy Kolb was absent from the Feb. 6 meeting.

Mayor Tom Ryan said it was the council – not city staff – pushing for this commercial area to be included in The Lakes master plan, which anticipated a higher density than what will ultimately be developed.

“I’ve talked to 50 different developers. They won’t touch it. It’s too far off the beaten path,” Ryan said.

Councilmember Russ Herbst said he was less concerned about the Gorham and Village Bank parcels because they are farther from the beach than the Hans Hagen Homes development.

Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer told the council during a Jan. 16 workshop meeting that a landscaped berm up to 11 feet high in some areas would make it difficult for people on the beach to see the homes. Even a homeowner closest to the beach would have trouble seeing the volleyball court from a second floor window, but they would be treated to a view of the water.

Rask said all homeowners would be made aware of the proximity of the beach. He has already talked to a couple of homeowners who live elsewhere in The Lakes and want to move to this new development.

The property owners closest to the beach have seen the signs announcing that “The Shops at Lakeside Commons” would be “coming soon.”

Karen Schommer understands that all three properties will not be commercial, but asked the council to take more time to consider more limited options such as a swimming pool.

Schommer and the mayor got into a discussion at one point.

The mayor said the developer Main Street 1000 had been trying to get commercial users there for 10 years so he feels enough time has passed. He said nobody has brought forward a proposal and an investor.

Residents mentioned different ideas at previous meetings such as a coffee shop, ice cream shop or small restaurant. Schommer was the first to bring up the swimming pool idea, but said funding would have to be found.

Her main point was that residents moving into the neighborhood were sold on the idea that commercial would come and were not notified until about four months ago that this vision may not come true.

“I’m not here to say that having homes in our neighborhood is a bad idea,” Schommer said. “We obviously live in a neighborhood and that’s what neighborhoods have is homes. But you have to understand that for some years, we have understood and expected that this property was going to be used for something different.”

New paved parking lot

Lakeside Commons Park started with a 72-stall paved lot. As the beach became popular, the city four years ago worked out an agreement with Main Street 1000 to lease property for a temporary parking lot that could hold 115 vehicles, according to Nate Monahan, a parks supervisor with the city of Blaine.

Main Street 1000 sold the property to Hans Hagen Homes last fall for the aforementioned 30-home development. The city was able to get 1.5 acres for a new parking lot.

Monahan said the main and overflow parking lots were full on four occasions last year. The overflow lot was used about half of the summer.

A couple of residents questioned the need for so much paved parking space when the overflow lot was only full a few times a year.

“The idea of having a parking lot that is bigger than the park and bigger than the green space is crazy,” said Mike Ryan.

City staff first proposed a 125-stall overflow lot, meaning the park would have 197 paved spaces.

Herbst proposed reducing the overflow lot size by 25 spaces, meaning there will be 172 spaces when including both parking lots. Mayor Ryan voted against Herbst’s motion because he does not want to see vehicles parking on neighborhood streets.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]