About 80 Eagan residents came out Thursday night to organize opposition to a housing development being considered for the 120-acre Carriage Hills Golf Course, one of the city's largest green spaces.
Wensmann Homes, an Eagan-based developer, has agreed to buy the land on the contingency that the city rezones it for housing. Wensmann land manager Kelly Murray said the company is looking for a way to develop it without alienating neighbors.
"We feel that we're some of the best people for working with communities and neighborhoods trying to design something that everybody can live with," Murray said.
The golf course has become economically unviable, Murray said. The owner, Ray Rahn, approached Wensmann Homes about the potential sale and Wensmann is doing studies on the land after signing a purchase agreement in August 2003, Murray said. No application has been submitted to the city yet.
Rahn was not available for comment.
The proposed sale echoes another battle that raged in 1996 when the previous owner tried to sell the land to a different developer. Then, a grassroots campaign yielded a petition containing more than 4,000 signatures and the land was not rezoned. Instead, it was sold to Rahn.
Because of the recurring nature of the conflict, the newly reformed Carriage Hills Coalition, the group organizing to oppose the development, is looking for a long-term solution for the site.
"We don't want to do this again every two or six years. We never want it to happen," said Claudia Battaino, head of public relations for the Carriage Hills Coalition.
Some suggestions at Thursday's meeting included working with local schools and sports leagues to find a way to use the land in an economically feasible way -- or to hold a referendum on whether the city should purchase the land.
Tom Garrison, spokesman for Eagan, said that without a referendum it would be impossible for the city to buy the golf course.
"There is no mythical pot of money for the city to run out and buy a property like that," he said. "More than likely you'd have to have a referendum if the City Council wanted to do it."
Residents say they are concerned that developing the land could lead to school crowding, traffic congestion and safety problems on surrounding streets.
"My home is on a dead end and now the only traffic is local," said Tom Kuntz, a 13-year resident of Eagan. "Eight years ago they estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 cars per day would pass through if it were developed. That would become a very dangerous corner, while today my kids can play in the street."
Some residents also said they are upset because the golf course, one of three in Eagan, is valuable green space in a city that is nearly built out.
"It's kind of a hidden gem, a nice attractive piece of land," Battaino said. "There are not that many large open spaces left, and our goal is to keep it green. Once it's gone, it's gone forever, and there's no way to get it back."
Murray said some of the developer's potential plans include reducing the course to nine holes with housing on the rest, or turning it into housing with a park. While plans are very tentative, she said the housing would probably include all price levels, from starter homes to empty nests.
"We wanted to be able to have lifecycle housing," she said.
Because planning is at such an early stage, "the golf course will be open next year," even if it is eventually redeveloped, she said.
If Wensmann Homes does pursue the project, it will require a review by the city planning commission, the City Council and the Met Council. The land would have to be rezoned, and changes to the city's road and sewer structure might be necessary.
Four of the five city council members would have to approve any development because it involves changing the city's blueprint for its own future, the Comprehensive Guide Plan.
"This is not uncommon, but definitely a level of review that has to be taken very seriously," said Jon Hohenstein, community development director for the city.
At its heart, the issue involves a changing economic climate, Hohenstein said.
"At the present time, the market for housing is especially strong, particularly in areas like Eagan, with good access to the metro area and all our amenities and little congestion. But as we approach build-out, where all properties have been developed, there is pressure on relatively undeveloped areas, and owners look very carefully at what their options are."