Plan for homes on golf course gets nod from Lake Elmo

The Lake Elmo City Council unanimously approved the preliminary plat for the Royal Golf Club residential development June 6. The vote approves the construction of 292 residential units at the former Tartan Park location.

As part of its agreement with the city, the developer of the Royal Golf Club has agreed to give a $1 million donation to the city of Lake Elmo to construct baseball fields elsewhere in the city to replace the baseball fields that will be removed during construction. While the fields are currently owned by the developer, local organizations have had access to the fields this summer.

During the plat approval, the council also voted to re-zone the area from the “public land” designation to the newly created “golf course community” designation. The change allows for the expansion of city sewer and water into the development.

When the city became aware that 3M intended to sell its Tartan Park property, the city planning department recognized that the property would need to change its current zoning — park or public land — should the new owner intend to change the use of the land to include residential development. Due to the property’s proximity to the city’s lakes and wetlands, sewer would be necessary to prevent water contamination. However, the approval of sewer service to a development includes regulations from the Metropolitan Council — a longtime point of contention at the city council table.

“The Metropolitan Council has approved the comprehensive plan change May 24,” city development director Stephen Wensmen said.

The Royal Golf Course residential development proposal consists of 292 residential units on about 223 acres — a proposed net density of 1.56 dwelling units per acre. Because the change in the comprehensive plan calls for sewer expansion beyond the area where the Met Council has mandated sewer growth, this addition of land and units will drive the city-wide average Metropolitan Urban Services Areas (MUSA) density to about 3.07 dwelling units per acre. The Metropolitan Council requires the city maintain an average MUSA density of three dwelling units per acre in order maintain a cost-effective regional wastewater system.

Included in the preliminary plat are conditions imposed by the city that the developer of the Royal Golf Club must meet. None of the conditions were “deal-breakers,” said developer Rick Packer. However, there was some confusion about the tree preservation ordinance that requires a developer to replace a calculated number of trees from the amount that are removed for building. Due to the number of trees removed and the size of the development, both Wensman and Packer noted that the calculated number of trees to be replaced is more than the city landscape architect said was allowable and would cause “over-planting.”

“Staff also suggested through this process, knowing that tree preservation is going to be an issue and buckthorn is a problem, to allow for buckthorn removal … in lieu of tree replacement,” Wensman said.

Packer said he was not comfortable with the idea of trading buckthorn removal for tree preservation because the request was not quantifiable in a dollar-for-dollar amount.

“If we put a maintenance employee on a piece of equipment that we own and say ‘go and clear those woods,’ that hardly costs me anything,” Packer said. “If I put a professional out there to clear those trees, it would cost hundred of thousands of dollars.”

The council directed city staff to continue working on finding a compromise for the tree preservation requirements and the desire to remove the invasive buckthorn. The council voted 4-0 — with council member Justin Bloyer absent — to approve the preliminary plat. According to the application materials, construction of Royal Golf Club will take place in four phases with construction beginning in 2017.

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com