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Moratorium set for development at EP golf courses
by Lyn Jerde, Sun Newspapers
(Created: Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:47 AM CST)

There will be no new development on any Eden Prairie land now used as a
golf course, while the city staff takes time - possibly as long as a year - to study and address possible discrepancies in its land-use rules. It's unusual for the Eden Prairie City Council to adopt an ordinance with both readings in a single meeting. That's what the council did Tuesday with two unanimous votes, enacting an interim ordinance that sets a 12-month development moratorium on any land designated as "public/quasi-public" and now used as a golf course.

That means no new uses, and no new buildings, on golf courses during the moratorium period. However, the owners can seek city permits for interior or exterior projects on existing structures.

City Attorney Ric Rosow said the measure - which he said was his idea, not broached by any council member - would clarify and strengthen the city's position before any development proposal is submitted for any land now used as a golf course.

"Here is an opportunity for the city to grab hold of this issue and study it carefully," Rosow said. The ordinance comes at a time when the Bent Creek Golf Course on Valley View Road is for sale, with at least one would-be developer among the suitors.

Mission Creek Co., LLC is handling the sale of the 105-acre course, which was put on the market after the death of one owner, Herbert Koch. Six prospective buyers have submitted purchase proposals - at least one of which calls for a development with about two-thirds low-density housing and one-third open space. A vocal group of Eden Prairie residents is advocating keeping the course as some kind of open space. Neither supporters nor opponents of potential Bent Creek development spoke at Tuesday's council meeting.

Rosow said the moratorium would give city staff time to address discrepancies between the city's guide plan and zoning ordinances. One key difference: Although the guide plan designates the city's golf courses as "quasi-public" land, there is no such classification in the zoning ordinances - and therefore, no rules about what could and could not be built on land with that designation.

All three of the golf courses that lie entirely within the city limits - Bent Creek, Olympic Hills and Bearpath - are zoned rural. Golf courses are a permitted use within a rural zone, as is single-family housing on parcels of five acres or more. A portion of the Glen Lake Golf Course in Minnetonka lies within Eden Prairie's city limits, and is zoned public - meaning no housing at all is permitted. Before adopting the moratorium ordinance, the council adopted a related resolution authorizing a "study of inconsistencies" between the comprehensive guide plan and the zoning code.

Councilmember Phil Young said he favors the study, but questions the need for a moratorium on development while it is conducted. Both Young and Councilmember Brad Aho said they preferred that a moratorium, if adopted, would be shorter than a year - possibly six or nine months.

Young said a year is a long time to tie a landowner's hands as to the use of his or her property. "Whenever you're freezing up somebody's ability to do something with their land, that is a significant government action," Young said.

Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said she agreed that the moratorium is a major measure. However, she said, it allows staff to study the issue before the city receives development proposals - easier, she said, than trying to resolve the questions while considering particular proposals. "There are a lot of people," she said, "for whom this land is important."

Rosow said a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on a case involving a Mendota Heights golf course suggests that, in the event of a conflict between the city's comprehensive guide plan and its zoning ordinance, the guide plan would take precedence.

At the Jan. 3 council meeting, Rosow told the council that Bent Creek has been, from its 1968 establishment, a "quasi-public" area, and has remained so through guide plan revisions in 1977 and 2001. Any potential developer, he said, would have to make a compelling case to use the land for something other than open space.

Community Development Director Janet Jeremiah said she is now looking for an intern to hire to conduct the research on the guide plan and zoning code as they relate to golf courses. Although her office also has several other projects in the works - including development proposals for other parts of the city, and the scheduled update of the guide plan - she said she believes the process could be completed in about nine months, thus allowing the moratorium to be lifted then.

City Manager Scott Neal said the city has had a development moratorium only once before, and it's not a measure that is taken lightly. "We don't want to use this authority unless we have to," he said, "and we want to make it as short as possible."

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