The Fredrick-Miller Spring has become a flashpoint in the debate over a 50-home development proposed near the southwestern Eden Prairie landmark.
Pulte Homes plans to build houses on steep land known as the Riley Creek Tree Farm along the east side of Spring Road between Lions Tap restaurant and the Hennepin Village neighborhood. But many opponents believe the nearby natural spring will suffer as a result.
“We have 1,087 people today who are asking you not to rezone,” Rebecca Prochaska, referring to a petition to oppose the project, told the Eden Prairie Planning Commission at a hearing Monday.
“My family depends on this source of clean and mineral-rich water every day for our health and well-being,” Stephanie Horak wrote in one of about three dozen letters and e-mails sent to the city.
But city officials and a majority of the commission that reviewed the project March 22 said that by keeping homes away from the spring and engineering storm-water basins in the neighborhood, the spring and nearby Riley Creek can be protected. The commission endorsed the project on a 5-3 vote and forwarded it to the city council for review.
And, the city took the unusual step after Monday’s public hearing to widely issue by social media and e-mail a statement saying, in part, that “this development does not impact the source of the spring or the access site. The natural spring is protected and will remain for many future generations to enjoy.”
Challenging property to develop
The project called Noble Hill is on 28 acres that is challenging to develop. It is steep, with an elevation drop of 150 feet from top to bottom, and it touches Riley Creek and scenic land owned by the City of Eden Prairie, including the piece containing Fredrick-Miller Spring.
Last year, Gonyea Homes proposed to build 59 homes on the property, but the project was dropped before reaching the city council. Pulte Homes’ plan calls for 50 homes – two-story in size and roughly priced from more than $600,000 to about $800,000 – but with significant retaining walls and tree loss.
The developer said more than 30 percent of the site will be preserved as open space, including about eight acres near the creek and spring.
Although neighbors have also raised concerns about tree loss, sight lines from their homes, and the need to preserve open land for the sake of wildlife and plants, it’s the historic spring that generated the most comments at Monday’s public hearing, including from residents of Minneapolis, Golden Valley, and Chaska who regularly visit the spring.
The spring has been in continuous use since 1890 and was designated by the city as a local Heritage Preservation Site in 1997, giving it protection written into city code.
But the city also notes that the source of the spring is actually on the west side of Spring Road and the water is routed beneath and across the road to a small parking lot for convenience. The spring’s ground watershed, according to a 2007 study, also lies across Spring Road from the property being considered for development.
Neighbors on Monday encouraged the city to consider more environmental study.
“I feel that you don’t have all the information,” said Maggie Schmitz of Eden Prairie. “I drink from the spring. I’m concerned about water quality.”
Several residents did speak in favor of the project. One, Sever Peterson, who lives south of the property proposed for development, asked opponents to remember that property taxes from developed land help pay for the city’s preservation of open spaces and landmarks. He said he appreciates their concerns, “but I think not only the neighborhood but also the community has put great value on that spring.”
Commissioners favoring the proposal said evidence shows the spring and the source of its water won’t be harmed by the development.
“Science prevails,” said Commissioner Ed Farr. “I’m going to continue to drink the water as long as I’m on this earth.”