Challengers for the mayoral and At Large Seat B seats may have different views on Minnetonka development, but there’s one thing they do agree on: They don’t think the incumbents are handling it the right way.
Mayoral candidate Grace Sheely argued at Thursday’s candidate forum that it’s time to stop catering to developers.
“My message is simple: It’s time for a change,” Sheely said. “Minnetonka is a fully developed city, and it no longer needs leadership with eyes and focus towards development. My leadership focus on livability and sustainability will be specifically on preserving our greatest assets—our green space, protecting our water for drinking and for recreation, promoting our unique business hubs.”
By contrast, At Large Seat B candidate Brian Grogan criticized the council for not doing enough to cultivate commercial development.
“I think we do need development because we are heavily reliant on residential property taxes and there are many people that are struggling to make ends meet every month,” he said.
Comparing Minnetonka to its Neighbors
Grogan said Minnetonka homeowners bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden because the city doesn’t have the commercial development of nearby communities like Eden Prairie or Plymouth—where he said, erroneously, that “70 percent of their land is committed to commercial development.”
It is true that residential property takes up a larger share of acreage in Minnetonka than it does in most neighboring communities. The city has 49 percent of its acreage tied up in residential property—third in the west metro, according to 2010 Metropolitan Council data, the latest available. Only Richfield and Edina ranked higher.
Meanwhile, Minnetonka had the lowest proportion of commercial-industrial acreage among nearby communities, with 7 percent of its land devoted to those uses. Hopkins, which had the highest proportion, had 17 percent. Plymouth was middle of the pack with 12 percent. And Eden Prairie was third from the bottom with 10 percent.
(The communities analyzed are Eden Prairie, Edina, Golden Valley, Hopkins, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Plymouth, St. Louis Park and Richfield.)
But Mayor Terry Schneider said that’s only part of the equation: “I do think the fundamental premise that we need to significantly grow our business-commercial-industrial base is a flawed assumption. We may have a higher percentage of our land mass in single-family homes, but we do have a significant portion of our tax base in commercial property.”
Met Council numbers back him up. Minnetonka has the third-highest commercial-industrial tax base per household among Hennepin County cities with at least 20,000 people (plus Hopkins), according to the council’s 2012 fiscal disparities data.
Commercial-industrial property also makes up a significant share of Minnetonka’s tax base compared to other types of property. Its 37.14 percent share is higher than in communities like Eden Prairie, Edina, Maple Grove, Minneapolis and Plymouth.
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And Councilwoman Patty Acomb, the At Large Seat B incumbent, said the city is seeing further redevelopment around some of its town centers and the Shady Oak Road and Excelsior Boulevard intersection. The arrival of light rail will add even more momentum.
“With the economy changing, I think we’re starting to see lot of redevelopment throughout our city,” she said.
Too Much Development?
Sheely, on the other hand, thinks the city needs to rein in development.
“Minnetonka residents need to hear a new message. If you don’t want overdevelopment, stop voting for developers,” she said.
Sheely’s jab targets some of the council members personally. Her opponent, Schneider, is an architect. The At Large Seat A incumbent, Dick Allendorf, is president of Allendorf Commercial Real Estate, Inc.
But Schneider countered that the city can’t just sit back and relax.
“Can we just say we’re fully developed and we want to stop growth and not do anything and keep it exactly the way it is? I’ve heard that before many times,” he said. “To be quite frank, people love what they have because of the guidance the council has had over the many years, the policies they’ve established and how they allowed responsible growth to take place to meet the needs of our citizens as they change and evolve in the future.”
The Right Type of Development
Even when development is wanted, residents can be resistant if it’s happening close to them. North Memorial’s Minnetonka Medical Center faced opposition from residents worried about what the project would mean for their homes. The sides worked together, and the project was eventually scaled back.
“When a big plot of land is slated to be redeveloped, the neighbors around it don’t necessarily want it to be redeveloped,” Allendorf said. “What I want is, if it is going to be redeveloped, I want it to be redeveloped so that it doesn’t change the character of any of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Said At Large Seat A challenger Angela Griffin: “Everything in this city is changing very fast from what it was 20 or 30 years ago—so the crowding, what people fear might be the breakdown in the neighborhoods—little issues, small issues like that.”
Grogan said he’d aim to bring a cohesive vision and common sense approach to development.
“Whether you’re a homeowner or a developer, if you’re coming to City Hall with an idea—it has common sense, it’s economically feasible, it follows code and fits into the character of Minnetonka—then we should approve it and we should allow it to go forward,” he said. “Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often.”