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UMore plan sets a high standard

There are a lot of ambitious ideas in the final proposal for the University of Minnesota's UMore Park development. But the man in charge of overseeing the project believes there's nothing that's beyond reach.

University of Minnesota regents are scheduled to vote Dec. 12 on a series of resolutions that will accept the plan, create a limited liability corporation to manage the project and create an endowment to manage any profit the U of M makes on the development.

If the votes are successful they will be one more step forward on a project that could ultimately bring 30,000 new residents and a whole lot of new ideas about development to 5,000 acres in Rosemount and Empire Township.

The master plan for the development, which over the next few decades could grow larger than Rosemount's current size, calls for homes built with energy-efficient materials, neighborhoods that encourage walking and an eco-industrial park in which firms will work together to make the best use of raw materials and reduce waste.

They're lofty goals, but Charles Muscoplat, the university's vice president of statewide strategic resource development, believes they're attainable.

"We certainly are going to try," Muscoplat said. "I don't think there's any reason to compromise. We're not rushed to do anything."

Muscoplat is particularly hopeful the university will reach its goals in the area of energy use. Current plans call for the use of alternative energy sources such as biofuels, wind and solar power. They also focus on details like placing homes and other buildings in ways that maximize exposure to the sun.

The plan creates several distinct zones within the development, each with its own identity. There are zones for industrial and business uses, for commercial development and for housing options ranging from single-family homes to apartment buildings. There is a lake with a marina and space for light rail and bus stations. There is a new high school, two new middle schools and eight new elementary schools. There is also an arts-focused school.

Take it all in at once and it can start to seem a little fanciful, but Muscoplat insists it's not.

"It's not going to be Utopia. There still will be real-life, everyday issues. But we're going to try very hard," Muscoplat said. "I think the board of regents is going to insist that we develop this community for how the rest of the country can build a new community."

The development is not going to happen overnight. Even if the regents approve the plan Muscoplat doesn't expect any work on the site for at least two years. Muscoplat hopes that by the time the university is ready to start building the real estate market will have improved.

Full development could take 25 or even 50 years, he said.

Along the way, the university will use the development as a training tool for students in fields from architecture to art to education.

"The goal is not only to build it and make money but to serve as a resource and an educational opportunity," Muscoplat said.

Whenever and however it happens, Muscoplat wants to make sure the university does things right.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," he said.