The latest in a series of local apartment projects was rejected on a preliminary 4-0 vote Tuesday, Aug. 16, by the Eden Prairie City Council.
The council said a Ryan Companies plan for a five-story, 211-unit apartment project on seven acres along Valley View Road, near its intersection with Topview Road/Plaza Drive, had too many issues. It instructed staff to prepare findings for a formal rejection of the plan, likely to come in September.
It’s the third apartment project reviewed by the City of Eden Prairie in nine months. The 425-unit Blue Stem North, near an under-construction light-rail-transit station in northeastern Eden Prairie, was approved by the city in March. A 239-unit project called The Ellie was approved for north of Smith Coffee & Café in December, and construction is already underway.
But, opposition from residents and the council to the Ryan Companies proposal has grown since the planning commission endorsed the project June 27 on a 6-1 vote, with one abstention.
Council members on Tuesday raised several issues, among them parking, road access, building height, and stormwater drainage. Eight waivers from the city code were requested by the developer, according to the city staff report.
“I have real concerns about this project – real concerns,” said Council Member Lisa Toomey, including the access limited to right-in, right-out-only turns from westbound Valley View Road. She described the proposed building as too big and too tall, with not enough parking. She asked the developer: Would you be willing to put in a smaller building?
“We are not able to build a smaller project and make it financially viable,” responded Tony Barranco, president of the North Region of Ryan Companies.
Barranco defended the project, saying that a lack of housing in the Twin Cities is hurting the business economy, and Eden Prairie is among cities that are short of affordable housing. At least one-fifth of the 211 units would have been rented at less than market rate under the city’s new Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
Right project, wrong location?
Council member concerns were echoed by residents at Tuesday’s public hearing on the project.
Charles Gibson, of Ann Court, opposed waivers for parking and height restrictions. “I don’t think the variances they’re asking you to grant are good for the area,” he said.
Another, Tony Morimoto, who lives on Topview Road, said there’s probably a solution to the project, but not with the number of variances proposed currently.
Added Wendy Klute, “I trust you to keep the standards present when I moved here 25 years ago.”
After listening to neighbors, Mayor Ron Case said, “This has a strong feeling of being too intense for that corner.”
But, he cautioned that whatever is developed on the site will have some kind of impact. And, he noted that many apartments are being built because there’s an overall housing shortage in the Twin Cities area. “They’re being driven by the market,” he said. “The market is leading us now with apartment buildings.
“Apartment buildings are not a bad thing. Variances are not a bad thing,” said Case. But there’s a feeling, he added, that this project is not the right one for this site, at least at this time.
“Removing the top floor would solve a lot of issues. [But] it might make the project untenable.”
Ryan Companies’ Barranco said that light turnout at earlier neighborhood meetings and the planning commission hearing led the developer to believe it was on a path to approval, even as the company provided backup parking plans and other responses to waiver concerns.
“We’re here tonight shocked and surprised by what we’re hearing,” he said, adding that Ryan Companies would like a chance to look at changes to the plan.
“It’s the first we’ve heard of all these comments. We look forward to more dialogue with the city manager, the city attorney, and Mayor Case. We look forward to making progress.”