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Council approves project despite resident protests

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A packed house turned out for the Rosemount City Council meeting Nov. 18 to express their thoughts on the Wilde Lake Estates development.

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Before the council approved a series of actions that paved the way for the project, residents were given the opportunity to comment on plans for a development that will include 14 luxury homes on the northwest corner of South Robert Trail and McAndrews Road.

Friedges Excavating plans to build the homes on 56 acres of property currently owned by the Vivian McInnis estate. Presently, the property consists of farmland, wetlands and a farmstead.

Friedges intends to split the farmstead property into two parcels. The project will include the installation of a cul-de-sac on the east side of Dodd Boulevard as well as the construction of holding ponds to keep storm water out of nearby wetlands.

As part of the proposal the city will receive property that will be designated for a future trail linking the city’s trail system to Lebanon Hills, which is part of Dakota County Greenway corridor plans for the area.

The planning commission held a public hearing in July about the development. The meeting was well attended with residents voicing concerns about a number of issues including the development’s impact on traffic, the city’s use of a planned unit development, the possible paving of Dodd Roa and the environmental impacts of the development.

Between the planning and council meetings, city council members received a number of letters from residents about the development, including some threatening letters.

Those threatening letters set the tone of the comment period of the meeting. While he allowed comments from the public, mayor Bill Droste was clear from the start that civility was required.

For a story on the letters click here.

The council was not required to hold a public hearing, but because there was a lot of resident concern Droste allowed comments. While he originally said he would allow comments for a half-hour, it lasted closer to two hours.

Attendees brought a laundry list of concerns to the council. Most of the issues related to the trail and the city’s use of a planned unit development to work around its own ordinance standards.

Some residents, though, insinuated more sinister motives of the council and city staff.

Resident Jeff Wilfahrt said he felt city staff was intentionally trying to mislead residents. He called out community development director Kim Lindquist for using the word slightly when describing what amounts to a 20 percent reduction in lot size.

Additionally, Wilfahrt said he found it concerning that Lindquist stepped out of the room during the meeting to talk with John Friedges.

“It feels like the city is working against the neighborhood for the benefit of someone that’s outside,” Wilfahrt said. “That’s wrong.”

Lindquist did leave the room to talk on the phone with Friedges, who was not present at the meeting.

Prior to Wilfahrt’s comments, concerns had been brought up about how the entrance to the development would affect the property owned by George and Carol Groff.

Specifically, council member Vanessa Demuth was worried the angle of the drive would mean headlights were flashing directly into the Groffs’ home.

Lindquist explained to the council that she was working with Friedges on a way to move the entrance to the development that would lessen the impact on the Groffs. Later, a condition was added in the council’s approval that requires the road be moved.

Trail

Throughout the approval process, a number of residents have expressed concerns about a proposed trail. Some of the concerns have included the trail’s impact on property values and liability issues for landowners.

The trail will be part of the county’s Greenway Vision for 2030. The county’s greenways aim to link trail systems with the county’s regional park system.

Dakota County Planner John Mertens was there to answer questions, although for some of the questions all he could offer was speculation about what he thought the county would do.

Dave Eccles said he had grave concerns about the trail and what it would mean for his individual property. Eccles has mature pines in the area and was concerned the trees would be taken down to make way for the trail installation.

Additionally, Eccles said he doesn’t want a trail going through his front yard.

David Senechal expressed concerns that having the trail through his property would make him vulnerable to litigation.

Attorney Mary Tietjen said the trail posed the same litigation threat as any sidewalk or trail in the community. 

PUD

As part of the land swap, the city agreed to a planned unit development agreement that would allow for smaller lot sizes than is required by the city’s rural residential standards. The PUD allows for an increase in density from five acres per unit to four acres per unit.

That change was a major point of contention for residents.

Senechal said he didn’t support the city using a PUD for the project.

“Let’s follow the rules and do what’s right,” he pleaded to the council.

Dr. Kurt Hansen commented several times throughout the hearing. Toward the end of the comment period, Hansen said he felt that a quality development could take place under standard regulation and he encouraged the council to deny the project using the PUD.

“I am not in favor of this,” said Hansen.

Traffic

Residents also expressed concern about possible traffic impact of bringing more residents into the area.

About Dodd Boulevard, Matt Hellige said, “It’s a fairly dangerous road.”

Lindquist said traffic along Dodd Road presently is lower than previous years since Dodd was disconnected from Connemara Trail.

In response to Hellige’s comments, council member Kim Shoe-Corrigan also encouraged residents to notify the police when they see bad driving behavior.

The intersection at Dodd Boulevard and McAndrews Road was also mentioned.

Recently, Dakota County Transportation staff held a meeting with the city council and talked about that intersection. The county has plans to improve McAndrews Road from Pilot Knob Road to South Robert Trail. However, funding has been slow to come because the project does not score high enough for funding in comparison to other regional projects.

Support

While many residents spoke against the project, there was support for it as well.

Michael Clements said the project will benefit the city as a whole and encouraged the council to see the bigger picture. Specifically, he said the additional tax income will take the burden off residents. He also commented that he thought the trail would be good for the community.

Katherine Gayl said she hopes the area’s natural beauty remains preserved and pleasant.

“I’m not against development. I just want to make sure it’s done right,” said Gayl.

Sandi Wirth, Wilde’s granddaughter, wrote in a letter to city staff that her grandparents would be thrilled to share the land with more people. Specifically, Wirth said she believes the trail will be a benefit for the community.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property. I think the public will thoroughly enjoy it once the trail is open,” wrote Wirth.

Troy Friedges, who is the realtor for the project, said due to the way the acreage is situated, there are limited options for the development.

“The margins on this thing are so small,” said Friedges.

He said this proposal minimizes the impacts of development while making the project viable.

“The sellers have the right to sell this property for the highest and best value the market will allow,” said Friedges.

The council approved seven motions to pass the Wilde Estates development. Six of the motions passed with a 3-1 vote with Droste, Shoe-Corrigan and Mark DeBettignies voting yes and Vanessa Demuth voting no. A motion to approve the Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act Notice of Decision for Wilde Lake Estates passed 4-0. Council member Jeff Weisensel was absent.

Earlier in the meeting, Demuth said she was uncomfortable with having 14 lots in the development. Demuth could not be reached for further comment.

Droste said he believed the project was consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and would ultimately benefit the city as a whole.

Before voting, Shoe-Corrigan, whose will finish her term at the end of December, thanked the crowd of about 50 for coming out. While she conceded that some of them would leave disappointed, she commended their willingness to come out on a cold night to take part in the government process.

“As a civics teacher it makes me happy to see so much involvement in the process,” she said. “In Rosemount we have an active citizenry.” 

Watch the meeting at ci.rosemount.mn.us/MediaCenter.aspx.

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Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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