Eden Prairie’s Planning Commission Aug. 9 unanimously approved a single family “infill” development for Johnson Ridge in the Bluestem Hills neighborhood.
Developer Laketown Builders will construct six single-family homes ranging in price from $800,000 to $1.2 million on the 2.1 acre site. Grading on the site is set to begin in September and asphalt for the cul-de-sac will be laid in early November, according to Laketown representative Harold Worrell.
Johnson Ridge’s recent history
The property was previously home to Vi and Harold Johnson. Mr. Johnson, a veteran and an airline mechanic for North Central and Braniff, cleared the land with an old tractor and built the house with the help of friends.
His young family started living there in 1960. Johnson lived in the house until he died at age 94 in 2019. “He wasn’t all that into nursing homes,” said Brent Johnson, Harold’s son.
Johnson saw his hilltop, which the family nicknamed “Acorn Acres” for its many oak trees, become surrounded when Dave Brown developed his horse farm into Bluestem Hills from 1987 to 1990.
Brown’s original house still exists at 11157 Bluestem Lane. Brown’s barn, which used to stand at the intersection of what is now Bluestem Lane and Bennett Place, was moved to Homeward Hills Park, where it stands today.
Unlike in 1960, Eden Prairie today has few open spaces remaining for development. Infill development occurs in between built-up neighborhoods on small- to medium-sized parcels of vacant land, or on existing properties that are rehabilitated.
Nineteen potential infill sites up to 32 acres are mapped on page 61 of the City’s comprehensive land use plan. Small, currently unmapped properties from one to six acres like Johnson Ridge will also qualify for redevelopment.
Infill projects sometimes generate controversy, like the recent arguments over Noble Hill. Other infill projects include Stable Path, Beverly Ridge, Highland Oaks, and Eden Ridge.
“Most development in Eden Prairie during these past few years could be characterized as tear-downs, but not in the same way neighbors would experience in higher density cities like Minneapolis or Edina,” said Sarah Strain, the staff planner who evaluated the project.
The City Council charges the planning department and its Planning Commission with balancing Eden Prairie’s long-term needs with residents’ concerns for the natural and built environment around infill sites.
“Small infill projects are challenging,” Worrell said after a March 25 online meeting attended by 30 neighbors. Johnson Ridge will be Worrell’s first project in Eden Prairie, but over the past 15 years, the Marine Corps veteran and graduate of the University of Minnesota’s architecture program has built over 1,000 homes.
“In today’s world, it’s hard to be a small builder,” he said. “You create your own projects.”
Over half of Johnson Ridge sheds water south towards Purgatory Creek. As a result, at least one of the adjoining homes on Jackson Drive runs its sump pump every 15 minutes year-round.
The site design calls for grading a swale and using drainage tile to divert runoff into “dry ponds” at the southwest and northeast edges of the property.
Other development challenges include replacing trees that will be cut down during construction, and preserving “heritage” trees; building a 10-foot retaining wall north of the cul-de-sac to manage potential soil erosion; and designing the six homes to ensure architectural variety.
Once the project begins, there will be heavy equipment onsite, with dirt trucks, vans and pick-ups coming in and out during the day. Worrell will ensure his contractors observe speed limits and construction hours in the active neighborhood, which has lots of young kids and many adults working from home.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Worrell said. “It’s going to be a puzzle piece.”
Residents’ input welcomed
Folks that live in established neighborhoods near infill projects are invited to participate in public hearings to ask questions and get answers, said Julie Klima, Eden Prairie city planner for eight years. Previously, Klima worked for the city of Shakopee for 20 years.
Project maps and staff reports are available online, and residents can comment before or during hearings, Klima said.
“After approvals, the city’s permitting processes for land alteration and buildings help us to monitor projects like Johnson Ridge,” she said. “We encourage developers to speak to neighbors early and often to understand their concerns, even before they talk to us.”
Once a project is approved and under construction, staff often will receive a call or email from a neighbor with concerns, Klima said. The city will follow up within 24 hours, she said, and send concerns to the appropriate department.
Neighbors Bill Habicht, Joe Houterman, John Kellogg, and Justin and Maureen Moorhead attended the Aug. 9 meeting to ask questions and voice their opinions.
The city’s web site has a general email address and a page for contacts, or the front desk can help route callers to the right people.
Next up: Affordable housing policy
As it manages the infill of remaining property puzzle pieces, the city will confront affordability and zoning challenges.
The Eden Prairie City Council convened a housing task force that has met for over a year.
“There will be affordable housing policy and ordinances likely to move forward to (the City) Council yet this year,” Klima said.