Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Golf Course Plan Draws Fire

Residents Ask City to Stick to Guides for Public Space

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Tuesday, June 15, 2004

by Laura Yuen

Dan Bailey admits that the latest pitch to put houses on the Carriage Hills Golf Course in Eagan could be worse.

About 40 of the 120 acres would remain open space, including wetlands, a neighborhood park and two miles of walking trails. The developer also decided to cut the initially proposed housing density by a third.

There's still one major hitch for neighbors like Bailey, though: It's not a golf course. "The population does not want that property developed, period," he said.

Eagan builder Wensmann Homes Inc. has asked the city to change the comprehensive guide plan, which designates the verdant slopes south of Yankee Doodle Road for public use. The request goes before the planning commission June 22, and the City Council is expected to make a final decision next month.

Residents caution against tinkering with the guide plan, which Bailey compares to a "constitution" intended to steer the city through development-making decisions for generations to come.

But Ray Rahn, whose family-run company owns the golf course, says it's not fair to keep him tied to a sinking ship. He has entered a purchase agreement with Wensmann Homes pending approval of the development, which would also require a zoning change.

He points out that his snack shop, which serves hotdogs and cellophane-wrapped sandwiches, can't compete with upscale clubhouses on more challenging courses. And he can't afford a $4 million upgrade that would put his course on par with others.

All across the suburbs, older golf courses are getting sidelined by bigger, classier ones in outlying areas. Rahn, who also owns the Rich Valley course in Rosemount, said he has lost several hundred thousand dollars operating Carriage Hills. He bought the course in 1996, just weeks after neighbors successfully fought a request from another residential developer to amend the comprehensive plan.

Even if this proposal to develop the golf course is rejected, another will come, said city planner Mike Ridley. "This isn't going to go away, I guarantee it," he said.

Large, undeveloped chunks of land have vanished throughout Eagan. The ones that remain tend to be targeted for commercial development or are "developmentally challenged" by severe topography or wetlands.

That's why Carriage Hills, groomed over the years, "is kind of a gem from a developer's point of view: 'Holy cow, all these acres and not all of the challenges that come with a lot of infill developments,' " Ridley said.

At a community meeting last week, Wensmann Homes shared with neighbors a rough plan to build about 480 units, including single-family homes, town homes and senior condominiums. Terry Wensmann said he's proposing to dedicate part of the open space as a city park.

Condo prices would start around the mid-$100,000s, and the single-family homes could sell for up to $1 million. Wensmann figures the development would net about $1.2 million in annual property tax revenue.

"I'm sure he would build a beautiful product," said resident Claudia Battaino, a member of the anti-development Carriage Hills Coalition. But "quite truthfully, I don't want to have to look out at town homes," she said.

Bailey said he fears the proposed development would congest streets and shrink the property values of his home. He said it could also cause storm water to spill out into surrounding yards; Wensmann said he would pay for the necessary infrastructure changes and could "even make it better" for the neighbors.

Coalition members are thinking of alternative uses for the site, such as a golf-instruction facility. Under the current land designation, the property could house a school, museum, hospital, cemetery or other places used by the community.

In the meantime, they also want Rahn to promote and invest in his business. Over the past year, he has quit advertising the course and closed the driving range.

"I've seen a lot of courses that are more cared for," said Carriage Hills golfer Sean Sandquist of Little Canada, who regularly tees off there with co-workers. "I don't see them putting a lot of money into here, and in general that doesn't generate more money."

Rahn said his business soured in the last four or five years, and he was forced to close the driving range in part because too many people were stealing his golf balls.

"I told the city right off when I bought it, 'I'm going to give it five years. If I can't turn a profit, you're going to be seeing me again,' " he said. "The time has come."

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