Tartan Park redevelopment faces challenges on road to approval

While the proposed redevelopment of Tartan Park into the Royal Golf Club has been met with enthusiasm by Lake Elmo elected officials and residents alike, the project has several steep obstacles to overcome before ground breaks.

The Lake Elmo planning commission had a public hearing on a proposed planned unit development (PUD) concept plan for the Royal Golf Club Aug. 22. Due to the area’s current zoning, the surrounding neighborhood and the potential environment impacts, residents and commissioners had several concerns.

City planner Stephen Wensman told the commissioners that a future change to Tartan Park was never considered in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“It was assumed that Tartan Park would not change,” Wensman said.

The proposed concept plan shows a golf course in the center of the property with three sections of residential development on the perimeter. About 100 of the 301 units planned would be considered “villas” with 55-foot wide lots,
starting at $550,000. The other 200 units would have lots that are 80-100 feet wide. They’d start at $800,000 and range to more than $1.2 million. An estimated value of the entire residential development is over $250 million.

The concept plan also shows the development connecting to the city’s sewer system. Because the property is outside any planned sewer construction, the development would generate about $2.5 million in city sewer and water fees. The planned construction of the development is proposed to take three to five years, with 60 units built per year.

Because this change wasn’t considered in the comprehensive plan, the city council has to consider how any development on the site will take place without clear guidelines. As an example, it is easier to consider the change of a piece of property for agricultural zoning to rural residential zoning because the comprehensive plan indicates that kind of future development.

According to the planning commission meeting materials, there are a few options related to how many residential units can be allowed in the new development, depending on the type of zoning used. Based upon the buildable land calculations, if the land were zoned for an Open Space (OP) development like neighboring developments, about 170 residential units would be allowed on the entire property. If the land were zoned for low-density urbanized development, the code would allow for 600 residential units.

While an OP zoning would result in an overall residential density similar to the adjacent neighborhoods, Wensman said the ordinance would not allow for a golf course in that zone. However, city staff reports said it would feel out of place to take the next step of allowing for urbanized low density north of 10th Street and away from the I-94 corridor. Wensman suggested that the city could develop a new zoning designation, but that it would take several months.

The Royal Golf Club concept plan currently shows 301 units in 205 acres in its residential — a density of 1.75 units per acre. The other half of the property would contain the golf course or unbuildable lakes and wetlands.


Many of the residents who spoke during the public hearing live near the former Tartan Park location and expressed sadness that the park would change. While the vast majority were supportive of redevelopment of the golf course and understood the need for a residential component to the project, they feared that the number of units, the need for sewer and the proximity of higher density development to their homes would negatively impact property values and would be out of character with Lake Elmo’s land use guidelines.

Dan Rice, president of the homeowners association of The Homestead development that would neighbor the Royal Golf course, remarked that a large number of homes would be located on the property’s west side and would be within the sight lines of the majority of the homeowners in his development.

“We are 18 homes with a combined value of $15 million,” Rice said. “If there was a reduction of 5 percent in property value, that would amount to $42,000 per property owner. It’s real, and it is meaningful.”

Speaking as an individual, Rice said he was concerned that there was support for this project from the city council that has previously expressed a motto of “slow growth,” and that bringing a large development with city sewer outside of the designated area planned for sewer was incongruent with previous policies.

“I’m trying to understand why there is such urgency to unconditionally embrace this project by certain city council members who were elected on ‘slow growth’ platforms,” Rice said. “Political consideration are always going to be inevitable in situations like this, but I hope that the planning commission, who serve as unelected volunteers, will serve as a checks and balances in this decision making process.”

Hollis Cavner, the property owner and developer of the golf course, said he intends to protect as many trees as possible and has reduced the number of homes that other developers would have asked for.

“I intend to do this right,” he said.

Cavner said he is investing $32 million in infrastructure for the property and $4 million in the clubhouse in order to make the business successful.

“Golf courses without debt are able to be successful,” Cavner said.

Environmental impacts

The Royal Golf Club sits in a section of Lake Elmo that is between two city sewer zones, but is surrounded by neighborhoods with larger lots sizes that can support a private septic system. However, Wensman told the commissioners than just over 200 acres of the 477 acre property are protected shoreland. The DNR would requires a sewer system for development in shoreland to protect against water contamination. The majority of the planning commission supported requiring sewer in the development

The property contains about two dozen wetlands and shoreland for three lakes — Lake Elmo, Horseshoe Lake and Rose Lake — and about half of the property has building limitations due to the DNR shoreland ordinance. The DNR requires that a planned unit development (PUD) process take place when the project includes shoreland, but the current Lake Elmo city code does not have language that governs PUD developments in its shoreland ordinance. Lake Elmo does have a draft of a new shoreland ordinance that would address the problem, but it is currently being reviewed by the DNR. Last month, the city council voted to extend a moratorium of construction in the sewer zones of the city in order to allow the DNR time to complete the review.

Future action

During the Aug. 22 meeting, the planning commission approved a recommendation not to change the current zoning for the Royal Golf Club at this time.  As part of its recommendation, the commission requested that the city council consider the traffic and conductivity within and around development, the units per acre density, the sewer system and other considerations.

The Lake Elmo city council is scheduled discuss the concept plan at its Sept. 6 meeting.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]