Loose ends, resident feedback put the development back to the drawing board
After two hours of deliberation at an Aug. 24 meeting, the Minnetonka Planning Commission decided to hold an additional meeting on the affordable housing complex at 4312 Shady Oak Road before the project goes to the city council.
The matter will pick up where it left off at the Sept. 7 planning commission meeting. The planning commission is then expected to make a recommendation to the city council. Despite the change in schedule, the council is still slated to make a final decision on the project at the Sept. 25 meeting.
The current design plan for the apartment building is a three-story building, with some two-story components, that would be home to 49 units — a mix of one-, two- and three-bedrooms — and amenities such as an exercise room, underground parking and an onsite manager’s office. Projected rental rates range from $848 to $1,175 per month.
Since the initial design was presented, it has been revised three times in efforts to incorporate resident feedback to scale the building down in size, height, density and visual appearance.
Now, the project plans will undergo another tweak at the request of city staffers who were primarily concerned about a sanitary sewage line running along the west side of the property that serves much of eastern Minnetonka. The amount of fill added to the site would place a heavier load atop the pipe than it could handle.
To preserve the pipe, city staffers requested a redesign from Ron Clark Construction.
“Long story short, [city staffers] are not exactly comfortable with the site plan yet,” Loren Gordon, city planner, said.
But city staffers pointed out the project’s necessary switch in zoning status, from “limited business” to “planned unit development,” would be a positive change in terms of land usage. The proposed development would have a more positive environmental effect than the existing commercial lot, which has been heavily contaminated over the years from previous tenants.
The city-owned lot is currently home to a strip mall where Chalet Pizza, an ammunition shop and empty storefronts reside.
The meeting was well attended by area residents who have been and continue to be very actively engaged in the process. The majority articulated their opposition, backing them up with anecdotal evidence as well as prepared documents.
Many attendees reiterated that they oppose the project not because of its status as affordable housing, but due to the issues a high-density development would bring to the neighborhood.
“To be clear, my wife and I are not opposed to the creation of affordable housing. In fact, we support the spirit under which this proposal was created,” said Henry Yoon, who moved onto Oak Drive Lane two weeks ago. “However, we believe this proposal will not serve its intended purpose and will instead serve to disrupt the balance of this amazing neighborhood in a way that will be detrimental to both to the existing as well as potential future residents. Therefore, we implore you to consider a less invasive solution.”
A collective concern of the area residents is worsened traffic and its effects on quality of life and safety.
While the city’s traffic study showed negligible differences, those in the surrounding neighborhoods provided personal examples of how traffic is already bad in the area and would only get worse with the addition of high-density housing.
The only access point to the proposed building would be from the south leg of Oak Drive Lane, a U-shaped street with 21 single-family homes. Residents fear that drivers would use the north leg of the street to avoid traffic on Shady Oak Road, therefore clogging the residential Oak Drive Lane.
“We will become a cut-through neighborhood instead of a residential neighborhood,” said Ann Aanestad of Oak Drive Lane.
Residents said traffic wouldn’t only cause inconvenience, but also an increased danger, especially to neighborhood children who play outside.
“In a short stretch [on Oak Drive Lane], you’ve got a lot of kids,” Steve Philbrook of Oak Drive Lane said. “I am terrified every time my son goes out on his bicycle because of all the traffic that’s coming through there.”
Mike Waldo from Ron Clark Construction said the only other place to put in an access point to the building would be by acquiring the property adjacent to the southern property line and that the owner was not willing to put a driveway there.
But toward the end of public hearing, the property owner Eric Johnson stepped forth. According to Johnson, he’s only had one informal, short meeting a few months ago with the city about the matter.
“No offers were made, none were rejected. I have heard nothing since. I’m interested in talking and listening to anything that comes up. I haven’t refused anything,” Johnson said, which prompted clapping from neighbors at the meeting.
A couple of supporters of the project, who are excited to see more affordable housing in Minnetonka, came forth as well.
“I am for this project. I think it’s a good transition for the area,” said Minnetonka resident Betty Wentworth. “I think people who work full time at fairly good jobs should be able to have good housing. I support it from the way it looks and I support it from a moral standpoint. It’s the right thing to do.”
Project developers are confident that the building will not be a visual eyesore or obstruct neighbor’s views. Throughout the evolution of the design, the developers say they have worked to “soften the edges.”
Project architect Tim Whitten said, “It’s going to be an attractive building.”
The developers have also taken privacy into consideration. For example, a company spokesman pointed out that the balconies off the proposed units would face away from single-family homes.
But so far, that hasn’t been enough to get people in the immediate neighborhood behind the project. According to Jeri Massengill of Oak Drive Lane, residents from 16 of the 21 homes have openly opposed the project.
Discussion will continue at the next planning commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, in the Minnetonka city hall council chambers.
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