Lake Elmo council approves concept plan for development at former Tartan Park site

After a long discussion, the Lake Elmo City Council voted to approve the concept plan for the redevelopment of the former Tartan Park property into the Royal Golf Club. While still in the initial planning phase and not legally binding, the concept plan does give the council an idea of how developer Hollis Cavner intends to add 297 residential units to the property while reconfiguring the golf course with the design help of professional golfers Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam.

By approving the concept plan, the city council gave Cavner the approval to begin crafting the preliminary plat of the development but recognized that there were still a lot of questions surrounding the zoning, housing density and public utilities. City planner Ben Gonzola gave the council a few suggested options on how to tackle the issue of rezoning the former park.

“We would typically identify this as something we need to study, let’s open up the comprehensive plan, let’s have a community discussion … then tailor our land use classification area, potentially coming up with a new zoning district and handle it that way,” Gonzola said. “The drawback to that first approach is timing. That whole process would take this community between three months to six months.”

Gonzola said the staff would recommend the longer process to amend the zoning and make changes to the comprehensive plan. However, the land owner has presented a viable plan to develop the property and Gonzola said the council may wish to apply a current zoning designation to the property because of the timing. This gave rise to a philosophical discussion among council members on how to approach the topic — change the zoning first and fit the project to the new zone, or have a project come forward and fit the zoning to the project.

Councilmember Justin Bloyer said he didn’t like the idea of changing the city’s comprehensive plan to fit the needs of one development. He had concerns about making a change to the sewer areas while there was still a moratorium on residential development in the current sewered areas. Councilmember Julie Fliflet said she felt that having a development that was already presented gave the council an opportunity to approve a land use for a project that is already available to discuss and negotiate specific issues.

“I like certainty,” Fliflet said.

When Cavner came before the planning commission with the project, the plan featured 301 homes, with houses in the southwest region closely arranged near existing neighbors to the former Tartan Park. In a revised plan presented to the council Sept. 6, Cavner said he instructed his staff to reduce the number of homes near the neighbors by nine units and shift some units to “age-targeted” single-level homes.

“After coming back from the planning commission, I told them, ‘You have your direction, fix it,’” Cavner said.

Cavner said he personally would prefer to have fewer residential units, but that there are financial limitations.

“The economics have to work for us,” Cavner said.

Several residents came to the Sept. 6 council meeting who opposed the development. Some held signs stating the development was “too big, too fast.”

Dan Rice, the homeowners association president for the neighboring Homestead development, said Cavner and his staff have met with residents in their neighborhood and have made some changes that will mitigate some potential impacts. However, Rice said not all issues have been solved.

Others were present that supported the development. Dick Smith was the manager at Tartan Park for eight years.

“This is a jewel in the Twin Cities,” Smith said. “Give these guys a chance.”

If the council were to change the zoning on the property to allow for sewer development outside of the areas currently planned for sewer, Bloyer asked what would stop other landowners in the city who are also outside of the sewer area to ask for sewer service.

Gonzola suggested that the council could use a “transitional district” in the area between the two sewered areas that would place special restrictions on how landowners within the area could request future sewer connections. This transitional district would prevent other areas in the city under the same zoning designation from requesting sewer service. While the current residents in this transitional district may not currently desire public utilities, Gonzola said some residents in that area may need public utilities in five years or 40 years to mitigate a failing septic system.

The council voted 4-1 — with Bloyer dissenting — to approve the HC Royal Golf Course PUD Concept Plan.

The golf course portion of the development does not require a change in zoning, and construction is currently taking place. The Royal Golf Club golf course is planned to open in early 2017.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]