Prior Lake American:
A second attempt by a developer to gain the approval of the Prior Lake Planning Commission for a 101-home subdivision left commissioners concerned about the project’s public benefits and the future of Spring Lake’s west side.
“This is the gateway to the west side of our community and the first PUD (planned unit development) on the west side of the lake where we will be seeing expansion in years to come,” Commissioner Jason Tschetter said. “We need to be sure that this sets an appropriate precedent.”
Developer Winkler Land Company wanted commission approval Monday for a plan to bring the single-family homes across 65 acres and a series of woods and wetlands on Spring Lake’s shore.
Instead commissioners sent the developer back to city staff to respond to over 70 comments, including many environmental and traffic concerns. Commissioners said Winkler can return to the commission in the coming months with an updated plan.
The latest design drops the earlier proposal for a large dock complex and private shoreline access for a homeowners association and reduces the number of lots along a proposed collector road.
Winkler had hoped to receive the green light on a request for a preliminary planned unit development, which would let the developer create smaller and closer lots than city standards otherwise allow.
All PUDs must demonstrate that such changes “offer a greater value to the community and can better meet the community’s health, welfare, and safety requirements,” according to city code.
Winkler argued its offer to preserve over 32 acres of lakeshore and open space, dedicate an additional right to the county on Marschall Road, oversee public trail and sidewalk installation and maintenance, expand a local street and cul-de-sac and offer “multiple housing price points” are public benefits.
Anderson said the project’s street and trail plans would save the city over $350,000.
“So you start adding these things up — and these are just some of the benefits,” Anderson said.
Chair Bryan Fleming noted the estimated savings would be less than the cheapest home in the subdivision. Winkler told the city they expect to sell the lots for $400,000 to over $650,000.
City staff told commissioners that they agreed with only a few of Winkler’s claimed benefits, including the public open space along the shoreline instead of private docks and the installation of maintained trails and sidewalks.
The changes did little to quell residents’ concerns that the development would do irrevocable harm to a fragile lake ecosystem and create work for taxpayers down the line.
Dr. Jens Christian Morkeberg told commissioners he marveled at the number of turkeys, hawks, swans and owls he saw during a recent hike in the area.
“This is a hardwood forest with very tall, old trees, which you can’t just replace with another tree,” Morkeberg said. “I worry that all of these wildlife experiences will disappear with the development. However, with some modifications, we can save some of the wetland areas.”
Residents told the commission they worried Spring Lake’s progress in improving water quality could be lost, such as by encroachment on protected wetlands.
The lake is on the state’s list of impaired lakes because of excess mercury and phosphorus, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District.
Anderson said Winkler is trying to work through community concerns and that the current plan is the best combination of benefits for the developer and community.
He said that if the lot remained a low-density residential area, Winkler would have to consider extending the lakeshore properties back and dredging through the lake’s cattails to add private docks to make up for lost value.
But some were skeptical of that response.
“I don’t think that’s actually a strong consideration that they’re making,” Spring Lake resident Jodi See said. “They’re not going to develop that because it’s so shallow that it’s not really useable.”
Several residents told the commission that they appreciated the work Winkler’s done so far, but the plan wasn’t the only one that could work.
“If it doesn’t fit, there’s probably a year or two down the line some other contractor that will come and give us another presentation,” lifelong Spring Lake resident Jim Weninger said.