Business at the Carriage Hills Golf Course may be ailing, but the Eagan City Council squashed any chances that the slopes would be revived as a posh, mixed-use subdivision--for now, at least.
In a 5-0 vote, the council Monday tentatively rejected a request to change the city's comprehensive guide plan from park to residential.
Neighbors of the 120-acre site off of Yankee Doodle Road reveled in the vote, which they called a triumph for green space in the highly developed suburb.
The decision came on the heels of other preservation victories in Eagan. The advisory Planning Commission last week refused to recommend another land-use change that would allow luxury houses on the former Diamond T horse ranch.
"The public is starting to be aware of the danger in getting rid of those spaces," said Dan Bailey, a volunteer coordinator for the Carriage Hills Coalition. "It just can't be replaced once it's gone."
Terry Wensmann, vice president of Eagan-based Wensmann Homes, said he would meet with the golf course's owner, Ray Rahn, over the next few days to ponder their next move. Both acknowledged that they would consider suing the city. The council is expected to officially deny the guide-plan change at its Aug. 17 meeting.
It would be very difficult to "forget about (the development) and walk away," Wensmann said. After hearing neighbors' concerns over the past several months, he redrafted his plans to pare down the number of homes. He also reserved a third of the land as wetlands and parkland.
His final plan called for 480 town houses, single-family homes and senior condominiums. "There's a need for this type of housing in Eagan," he said. "We're providing housing for a full mix of people."
He also noted that many of the neighbors who so fervently support their backyard golf course don't patronize it. Only one person who lives within 650 feet of the course has a Carriage Hills golf membership, and out of the total 120 club members, 18 live in Eagan, he said. People don't need to be members to golf at the course.
Rahn estimates he has lost $800,000 over the past five years in business. He bought the course for $3.6 million in 1996, just weeks after neighbors successfully fought a request from another residential developer to amend the comprehensive plan. He reckons he still owes about $3 million.
"If people in this community want to keep an established amenity, they need to support it," said Council Member Peggy Carlson. She suggested the local athletic association and the city Parks Department start neighborhood golf programs there.
On the other hand, the course needs to keep its end of the deal. "It was really sad to see the fact they didn't open their driving range this year," said Carlson, whose 14-year-old son golfs at Carriage Hills. "Kids in our neighborhood would go over there quite a bit and hit a bucket of balls."
Rahn maintained that he was just one individual fighting a losing battle to larger, more competitive courses in the outlying areas.
But neighbors accuse him of neglecting the course, failing to properly market it and complaining of poor business just so he could sell it for millions of dollars to a developer.
"They're the experts," he responded sardonically.
Mayor Pat Geagan said he sympathized with the Rahns. But he had qualms about fiddling with the area's intended use. "Everything around it has been built with the golf course in mind," he said.
Council Member Mike Maguire said he hopes the Rahns and neighbors could eventually work together to figure out a shared solution. "We're all naive if we think we're never going to see someone else try to develop this land as something other than a golf course," he said.
Bailey, the golf course neighbor, said his coalition will be ready.