Shady Oak housing project moves forth

Despite commissioners’ uncertainty and concerns, Shady Oak Crossing moves onto council for final decision

The Minnetonka Planning Commission ultimately voted, at a Sept. 7 meeting, to send the affordable housing redevelopment project

The most recent design plan for Shady Oak Crossing, the affordable housing complex at 4312 Shady Oak Rd., that was presented at the Sept. 7 planning commission meeting. (Photo courtesy of City of Minnetonka)
The most recent design plan for Shady Oak Crossing, the affordable housing complex at 4312 Shady Oak Rd., that was presented at the Sept. 7 planning commission meeting. (Photo courtesy of City of Minnetonka)

at 4312 Shady Oak Rd. to the city council for a final decision.

For many of the commissioners, it was not an easy decision. Since 2016, the city and public have met an estimated 16 to 18 times about the proposed apartment building on the city-owned lot. Now, nearly a year later, commissioners still were struggling to decide where they stood on the project at the commission meeting.

“This is the most difficult project I’ve had to come to terms with since being on the planning commission,” said Commissioner John Powers.

The current design plan is a three-story apartment building, with some two-story components, that would house 49 units – a combination of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments – with amenities such as an exercise room, tot lot, underground parking and an on-site manager’s office. Projected rental rates range from $848 to $1,175 per month.

In efforts to incorporate area residents’ feedback, city staff members have requested redesigns from the developer to scale the proposed building down in size, height, density and overall visual appearance.

The fifth iteration of the design plan was presented at the Sept. 7 meeting. At the last meeting, city staff had requested a revised site plan from the developer, Ron Clark Construction, due to concerns about a sewage line that runs along the western edge of the property and serves much of eastern Minnetonka. The amount of fill planned for atop the pipe was a heavier load than the pipe could handle, and the corrected redesign solved the issue.

Another change included shifting the driveway on Oak Drive Lane east, so its distance to the stop sign is reduced by 25 feet. The building plan remained the same.

The attendees at the Sept. 7 planning commission meeting included affordable housing advocates, opposed neighbors and representatives from Ron Clark Construction. The meetings concerning this project have been well-attended. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Sabina Badola)
The attendees at the Sept. 7 planning commission meeting included affordable housing advocates, opposed neighbors and representatives from Ron Clark Construction. The meetings concerning this project have been well-attended. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Sabina Badola)

When opened to public hearing, many community members stepped up to speak, both in support and in opposition to the project. A neighborhood group still collectively opposes the project and has been organized and outspoken in their resistance.

A main concern is the danger that increased traffic could bring to Oak Drive Lane, especially to neighborhood children who play outside.

Steve Philbrook of Oak Drive Lane has previously shared his fear with the commission for letting his child play outside once the project is built because, according to his personal anecdotes, traffic is already bad enough.

“I’m not seeing what’s changed with safety,” Philbrook said.

Throughout the meeting, the planning commission had a mixed response to traffic. Ideas were floated on how to keep traffic off Oak Drive Lane—from turning the southern leg of the lane into a dead-end to negotiating with the property owner to the south on putting the driveway there instead.

However, commissioners also mused that the extra traffic generated by future tenants of Shady Oak Crossing could be a “drop in the bucket” on the already bustling Shady Oak Road and traffic will likely reduce once Highway 169 construction ends, which is slated for completion Oct. 1.

At the Aug. 24 meeting, Eric Johnson, the property owner to the south, said he was open to negotiation. Some commissioners expressed regret that Johnson had not come forth sooner to work with them.

“Mr. Johnson dropped that nugget on us at an unfortunate time. We can’t redesign tonight. If we’d heard earlier, we could’ve changed things,” said Brian Kirk, planning commission chair.

Nevertheless, the planning commission’s role in the project is to evaluate if land use is appropriate.

“We’re not designers […] We have to take the proposal for what it is,” said Kirk.

Residents of Oak Drive Lane, the neighborhood adjacent to the proposed complex, have also pointed out that they have visited other high-density housing developments in Minnetonka, none of which have a driveway that is solely accessible from a residential street with single-family homes.

City Planner Loren Gordon, who presented examples in similar settings across the city, said high-density housing with close proximity to a street of single-family homes is “not an unfamiliar relationship.”

But some commissioners agreed that there is no housing complex in Minnetonka quite comparable to Shady Oak Crossing’s situation.

Many neighbors reiterated they would be in favor of affordable housing if it were a lower-density project.

“We really do want affordable housing, but done in a responsible way,” said Elizabeth Miller, an area resident.

Neighbors also expressed concern about snow removal procedures, poor access to bus routes and the potential of lowered property values.

Some supporters of the project advocated for affordable housing, which they say is a dire need in Minnetonka. Many also shared personal reasons for why the project is important, especially to those who are struggling.

One elderly Minnetonka resident, who has been living in the city since 1957, said she would like to sell her house and downsize but is afraid she can’t afford to do that and remain in Minnetonka. She said the thought of having to move anywhere other than Minnetonka pains her.

City staffers also presented benefits to the community, such as the alignment with affordable housing goals for 2030 and 2040, removal of a blighted property, access to a future light rail transit station, contamination cleanup and the addition of sidewalks.

Toward the end of the meeting, some commissioners openly expressed their uncertainty on which way to go on the project.

Kirk, who lived on Oak Drive Lane about 40 years ago, emotionally expressed that he was hung up on the project and wants to protect the character of the neighborhood by moving the driveway off of the street.

“I’m trying to figure out whether or not I’m being objective or if I’m starting to relive memories of the neighborhood,” he said.

He lived at 4292 Oak Drive Ln., the city-owned house at the western property edge whose backyard would be host to a water retention pond under the proposal.

Aerial view of the lot with a rendering of the proposed development included (Photo courtesy of City of Minnetonka)
Aerial view of the lot with a rendering of the proposed development included (Photo courtesy of City of Minnetonka)

But Kirk also acknowledged that developing the lot is inevitable and that the proposed housing complex is “lightyears” ahead of the current state of the commercial lot, which is home to a strip mall that houses Chalet Pizza, Tara’s Sewing & Alterations, an ammunition shop and empty storefronts.

Commissioner Deb Calvert, who ultimately voted in favor of the project, said she was still making up her mind minutes before the vote.

Kirk, along with Commissioner Josh Sewell, voted against, with the rest of the commissioners voting for the project to be recommended to the city council.

The city council is expected to make its final decision about the project at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25, meeting. More information can be found at eminnetonka.com.

Contact Sabina Badola at [email protected]