Excelsior delays decision on East Town

More information requested from Planning Commission

By Paige Kieffer
[email protected]

The Excelsior City Council voted 4-0 in favor of referring the East Town Redevelopment Plan back to the Planning Commission for more comments and data.

The Excelsior Planning Commission voted 5-0 June 26 in favor of the city council referring the plan back to the commission, in order to gather more data and consider changing the city’s zoning code to halt any development even after the moratorium ends Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The moratorium was created to halt any development and allow the city time to gather public input on what development residents would like for East Town. It was also brought about by the city’s desire to sell the 810 Excelsior Blvd. property and the sale of the Bayview Event Center.

The event center sold for $4.25 million this summer to Locorr Fund Management, with the desire of creating office space on the upper level of the center. The new owners are till considering uses on the lower levels of the Bayview Event Center and Bayside Grille.

The council hired Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., or HkGi, to complete a plan for the area and the firm developed two plans, based on public input from three open houses March 23, April 27 and June 1.

In February, a steering committee was developed to provide guidance to the firm and to promote public participation. The committee voted on a plan that was eventually added into the current plan, which was presented to the planning commission and city council, according to Ann Hersman and Joan Maher, steering committee members.

HkGi’s current plan is a vision plan that could be used for considering future development, and also allows for grounds of denying a project, if the zoning ordinances are also changed.

“A small area plan is not a redevelopment plan,” said Pat Smith, planning director. “It’s not going to happen exactly how it’s laid out now. It’s just a vision. It’s supposed to be fluid because if things change. The area plan can change as well. The small area plan is there to set expectations for residents and developers.”

HkGi’s goals based on input from residents and the steering committee were:
-To preserve views and public access to Lake Minnetonka, which are very important.
-Surface parking is not viewed as the best use of the land in this part of town.
-To maintain character suited for waterfront entertainment.
-A mixture of land uses is preferred for this area.
-A general concern for building heights of new development.
-Create a “small town” feeling in this area.

HkGi’s concept goals were:
-To keep the area as regional entertainment destination, pedestrian friendly, economically sustainable and ultimately more livable.
-To create an entertainment and recreation-orientated neighborhood with a “small town feel” on the Excelsior Bay lakefront.
-To transform Excelsior Boulevard corridor into a more walkable and bike-friendly street.
-To improve East Town as a mixed-use neighborhood that offers views and easy walking to the lakefront.
-To promote new development and redevelopment to achieve a better and more efficient use of East Town’s high land values.
The plans presented to the planning commission and city council were to:
-Add single-family homes on the Adele’s and the 810 Excelsior Blvd. site.
-Add multi-family units north and south of Excelsior Boulevard, by Youngsteads and the existing apartment complex, while adding more commercial along the road while keeping existing businesses.
-Create garden townhomes in the Maynard’s and Bayside southern lot, with a parking ramp behind the structure.
-Create lakeside residential homes north of the Bayside-Bayview property.
-Keep the views of Lake Minnetonka in the parking lot.
-Have retail, entertainment and possible upper level residential on the Maynard’s and Bayview properties.
-Adding two roundabouts along Excelsior Boulevard on the west end.

The planning commission members said they were concerned about allowing any residential along Lake Minnetonka, they wanted to eliminate the fourth floor of the townhomes and parking garage structure, eliminate fourth floor of apartment buildings, increase setbacks on Adele’s and 810 Excelsior Blvd. property and reduce the density of the apartments.

The commission members did like in the plan the ideas of preserving views, keeping waterfront entertainment and the setback on the townhomes.

Planning Commission Member Dale Kurschner said, at the July 17 city council meeting, that the commission members were most concerned with what traffic will be generated from the project.
WSB & Associates did a traffic review, but didn’t do any traffic counts. The planning commission and city council were both in favor of further studies.

“We liked a lot about the plan but there were some things about it, traffic in particular, where it wasn’t a traffic study, it was a review,” Kurschner said. “When you look at all that’s going on there and all the traffic we already have in that area, we thought it would be much better to have a better study or a better understanding of how much traffic there will be, but also elsewhere in Excelsior.”

Many residents, businesses and developers spoke at the July 17 council meeting. Many were against approving the existing plan and supported sending it back to the planning commission for further review. Many were against the density, size and cited the plan would create a “canyon effect” similar to Wayzata.

“I don’t know anyone I’ve spoken to that feels good about what’s happening with the East Town area,” said resident Teri Rossi. “What I hear is it’s striking the character of our town, it doesn’t make sense, it feels like Wayzata, the overbuilding of the houses and townhomes feels like Eden Prairie, doesn’t feel like a town for kids anymore, where do kids go to eat, and it feels like a down for 40-year-old rich people.”

Councilmember Jennifer Caron expressed concern about changing the zoning ordinance, noting there have already been too many changes with planned unit development approvals. These approvals only require three council votes to pass.

“We can pass revised zoning but I think having a plan that everyone is supportive of and has effectively approved whether it’s apart of the comprehensive plan or not is really important because it’s easy to override or change,” she said.

Matt Duffy, who was at the meeting representing Maynard’s, said that his client was prepared to object to any zoning restrictions that would infringe on their property rights, specifically if they chose not to keep the Lake Minnetonka views.

“Maynard’s is going to object to anything that restricts our future use of property expansion of the business as needed,” Duffy said. “The views over there, well it’s a good feel-good idea, it restricts our property rights. So we’re going to object to that. There is no constitutional right to the views for people behind us.”

Duffy said Maynard’s would like to remain an entertainment destination, but they have goals to expand their property and any zoning restrictions would reduce their market value, among other issues.

Councilmember John Beattie agreed with the planning commission’s advice and said, “We need to send it back to the planning commission for some additional comments from them on the areas that they want to consider.”

The city council suggested that the planning commission focus on the entertainment and residential area to review. Also they would also like to see specific zoning suggestions.

Follow Paige Kieffer on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.