Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Neighbors Decry Store Project's Large Scale

City Council Says its Hands are Tied

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Saturday, October 29, 2005

by Meggen Lindsay

Tom Kukulski likes having an empty field behind his back yard just fine. The vacant land helps buffer his tucked-away neighborhood from the busy street it abuts - and makes for a better view.

Like others in Eagan's Wildflower subdivision, Kukulski knew there was a decent chance a commercial development ultimately would sprout on the prairie grasses and shrubs. The prospect didn't thrill him, but he'd made his peace with it.

Never, however, did he imagine the development would be a 43,175-square-foot grocery store - roughly the size of the city's incoming Best Buy.

"It's out of scale with the neighborhood. This is not the business we expected," said Kukulski, 55. "It seems as if the city is bent on creating another Pilot Knob and Yankee Doodle intersection here. Let's save at least a little bit of what Eagan originally was."

Kukulski is one of dozens of residents who live near Lexington Avenue and Diffley Road and are aghast at the proposed store, Radermacher's Fresh Market. They say it will be far too big and the traffic it draws will ruin their quiet residential neighborhood.

Others, albeit in smaller numbers, said they would welcome the convenience of having a grocery store close by. Radermacher's is a third-generation family grocery chain with stores in Savage, Jordan and Shakopee.

Despite the city's Advisory Planning Commission 5-2 vote to recommend denial of the controversial project because of its size, the Eagan City Council unanimously approved the development, called Diffley Marketplace, earlier this month.

The 11-acre site, just east of an existing Walgreens, also would include two retail buildings, likely with a bank and drive-through restaurant.

Council members said their hands were tied after the city attorney told them there was little chance the council could legally stop John Trautz of Reliance Development. The property has long been slated for commercial retail use, and the development meets nearly all the zoning guidelines.

"This project is within the parameter of uses for the site," said City Council Member Peggy Carlson. "We've been sued before and have had to settle over a development. In this case, what we could do is work with the developer and try to get the best deal we could."

Resident Dave Giel, 60, blames the City Council for not changing zoning years earlier to prevent this type of situation.

"It's very disappointing. To us, it seems as plain as the nose on your face that a store that big shouldn't be there," he said.

The council approved the store as a planned development, which means the city could impose restrictions - such as buffers, architectural improvements and landscaping - it otherwise would have been unable to do.

Council Member Mike Maguire acknowledged he's still unhappy with the scale of the development, a concern other city officials echoed.

"I am disappointed. In spite of that, I think people are gratified that we've addressed the traffic issue," he said.

The council stopped access to the grocery store from Daniel Drive - which leads into the neighborhood - but Dakota County must agree to Diffley Road as the store's main entrance.

The county board should vote on the proposal Monday.

Tracie Hughes, 35, lives on Daniel Drive and said that if the road remains unconnected, she has no problem with the store going in.

"I just don't think residential and commercial traffic should be mixed. In two blocks, I counted 18 kids school age and under," said Hughes, who runs an in-home day care. "It's a big deal. We need those kids to be safe."

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