City’s ‘McMansion’ policy will be waived to preserve more trees
By Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
The Minnetonka City Council approved a proposal, with a 5-1 vote at its May 8 meeting, for the Enclave at Regal Oak, four single-family lots on Shady Oak Road and Regal Oak.
The current properties, 3639 Shady Oak Rd. and 3627 Regal Oak, will be subdivided to allow for the four single-family lots, ranging from 22,000 square feet to 46,110 square feet.
The initial concept plan review for the site included subdividing the properties into six single-family lots, which the council determined was too many lots.
A plan was later proposed to subdivide into five lots, with a planned unit development rezoning; both the planning commission and city staff recommended denial, as the planned unit development would not provide significant public benefit and the plan would have a significant impact on more than 50 percent of the area trees, in violation of the city’s tree ordinance.
“We didn’t really feel like it met the goals for a planned unit development in this neighborhood,” said City Planner Loren Gordon. “The developer pulled back and retooled … that proposal is just a straightforward R-1 proposal.”
The applicant, Airborne Construction One LLC, then withdrew the proposal voluntary to revise the plan.
After continued back-and-forth with city staff member and engineers, the applicant’s current plan was proposed.
“This has come a long way in terms of minimizing those initial impacts on trees,” Gordon said.
Of the two currently existing homes on the property, one home will remain, while the other will be destroyed to make room for three new custom-designed homes.
In order to minimize impact to the site, staff members recommended a setback variance to allow for a 25-foot setback instead of the conventional 35-foot setback. Such a variance would be consistent with other developments in the area, Gorden said, and help preserve some of the trees on the lots.
Resident Vanessa Green, who had previously shared concerns about the development at the concept plan review, expressed her continued opposition to the project.
“I remain concerned about the number of trees being destroyed, the effect on the habitat of wildlife there, and I’m mortified by the size of the homes,” she said.
Staff members also recommended that the council waive the city’s “McMansion policy” for the development. Intended to keep developments consistent with surrounding neighborhoods, the policy requires that the floor area ratio (square footage of the house divided by the lot size) of the subject property not be greater than the largest floor area ratio of properties within 1,000 feet on the same street, and a distance of 400 feet from the subject property. The policy does not apply to all development projects, but is triggered when a variance, such as the setback request, is proposed.
Gordon explained that the variance would not significantly impact the buildable area of the lot, but rather shift it to allow for minimal impact on the existing trees.
The council agreed with the setback variance, but members expressed mixed feelings about waiving the policy to the development.
“I see no reason why we should risk a bigger house here than our McMansion policy would allow,” said Councilmember Dick Allendorf. “I would hate to give up a control that we all as council members worked for and studied and put into effect to just let the developer put up as big a house as he wants.”
Councilmember Patty Acomb expressed concerns about setting a precedent by waiving the policy.
Community Development Director Julie Wischnack added that should the council choose to waive the policy, the development would still be restricted in size by the tree ordinance; the waiver would add approximately 500 square feet of buildable area across all four lots.
“You have to ask yourself, is 500 square feet worth invoking the McMansion policy or is it not that important, in which case you would waive it.” Wischnack said. “The policy is not a law or ordinance. It is simply that — a policy that guides the council in their decision-making.”
Councilmember Tim Bergstedt said that the improved design of the project was worth waiving the policy.
“This has been before us a number of times and I think from where we started, with a bunch of cookie cutter small houses to an R-1 development now, I think it’s much improved,” he said.
Mayor Terry Schneider agreed.
“I would rather have people able to do a custom home, within the constraints of the setbacks and the tree ordinance, so they can do what they want and hopefully they’re all different,” Schneider said. “This is kind of a strange lot that they’re trying to make use of and it’s really improved. … I think to be overly picky is not good public policy.”
Allendorf was the sole dissenting vote in the decision to approve the plat.
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]