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Prior Lake planners question public benefits of 101-home Spring Lake development

A second attempt by a developer to gain the approval of the Prior Lake Planning Commission for a 101-home subdivision left commissioners concerned about the project’s public benefits and the future of Spring Lake’s west side.

“This is the gateway to the west side of our community and the first PUD (planned unit development) on the west side of the lake where we will be seeing expansion in years to come,” Commissioner Jason Tschetter said. “We need to be sure that this sets an appropriate precedent.”

Developer Winkler Land Company wanted commission approval Monday for a plan to bring the single-family homes across 65 acres and a series of woods and wetlands on Spring Lake’s shore.

Project manager John Anderson told the commission the developer hopes to start construction on the first phase this year and have full build-out in the next three to five years.

Instead commissioners sent the developer back to city staff to respond to over 70 comments, including many environmental and traffic concerns. Commissioners said Winkler can return to the commission in the coming months with an updated plan.

The latest design drops the earlier proposal for a large dock complex and private shoreline access for a homeowners association and reduces the number of lots along a proposed collector road.

Winkler had hoped to receive the green light on a request for a preliminary planned unit development, which would let the developer create smaller and closer lots than city standards otherwise allow.

All PUDs must demonstrate that such changes “offer a greater value to the community and can better meet the community’s health, welfare, and safety requirements,” according to city code.

Winkler argued its offer to preserve over 32 acres of lakeshore and open space, dedicate an additional right to the county on Marschall Road, oversee public trail and sidewalk installation and maintenance, expand a local street and cul-de-sac and offer “multiple housing price points” are public benefits.

Anderson said the project’s street and trail plans would save the city over $350,000.

“So you start adding these things up — and these are just some of the benefits,” Anderson said.

Chair Bryan Fleming noted the estimated savings would be less than the cheapest home in the subdivision. Winkler told the city they expect to sell the lots for $400,000 to over $650,000.

City staff told commissioners that they agreed with only a few of Winkler’s claimed benefits, including the public open space along the shoreline instead of private docks and the installation of maintained trails and sidewalks.

The changes did little to quell residents’ concerns that the development would do irrevocable harm to a fragile lake ecosystem and create work for taxpayers down the line.

Dr. Jens Christian Morkeberg told commissioners he marveled at the number of turkeys, hawks, swans and owls he saw during a recent hike in the area.

“This is a hardwood forest with very tall, old trees, which you can’t just replace with another tree,” Morkeberg said. “I worry that all of these wildlife experiences will disappear with the development. However, with some modifications, we can save some of the wetland areas.”

Residents told the commission they worried Spring Lake’s progress in improving water quality could be lost, such as by encroachment on protected wetlands.

The lake is on the state’s list of impaired lakes because of excess mercury and phosphorus, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District.

Anderson said Winkler is trying to work through community concerns and that the current plan is the best combination of benefits for the developer and community.

He said that if the lot remained a low-density residential area, Winkler would have to consider extending the lakeshore properties back and dredging through the lake’s cattails to add private docks to make up for lost value.

But some were skeptical of that response.

“I don’t think that’s actually a strong consideration that they’re making,” Spring Lake resident Jodi See said. “They’re not going to develop that because it’s so shallow that it’s not really useable.”

Several residents told the commission that they appreciated the work Winkler’s done so far, but the plan wasn’t the only one that could work.

“If it doesn’t fit, there’s probably a year or two down the line some other contractor that will come and give us another presentation,” lifelong Spring Lake resident Jim Weninger said.

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Dakota County GOP candidates add to field of potential Craig contenders

Two Dakota County Republicans this week announced they’re running for the 2nd Congressional District seat, each saying Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig has lost her way and that they’re the best choice among a growing list of contenders.

Regina Barr, a former state legislator from Inver Grove Heights, and Erika Cashin, an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel in Apple Valley, bring the total number of Republican candidates to five.

They’re set to compete with two Prior Lake residents — U.S. Marine Corps reserve officer Tyler Kistner and Rotarian Rick Olson — and with Kerry Zeiler this year for their party’s nomination to run against Craig, who is seeking re-election in November.

The congressional district covers Scott and Dakota counties and other parts of southeastern Minnesota.

Barr and Cashin entered the race with several similar positions. Both voiced support for President Donald Trump, for example, and called Trump’s impeachment a distraction from real issues. Each also said Craig isn’t representing moderates and conservatives in the district.

Craig and other House members impeached Trump in December, basically asking the Senate to remove him from office after he asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate potential rival Joe Biden and his son. Trump has said he’s trying to fight corruption, but Craig and others called it an abuse of power for personal gain.

“Our political system has lost focus. Our current elected officials are locked in partisan discord,” Cashin, 51, wrote on her campaign website. “We need to do better.”

Cashin in an interview called Trump a disruptor who opened politics to less conventional candidates like her, adding he’s not perfect but gets things done. Barr criticized Craig for voting for Trump’s positions just 5% of the time.

Craig has voted to ban offshore drilling, to raise the minimum wage and to block Trump’s emergency declaration diverting money to the southern border’s walls, among dozens of other votes Trump opposed, according to the news and analysis website FiveThirtyEight.

“I was appalled, and I think most people in the community are appalled,” said Barr, 54. She declared in her race announcement, “We’re coming to take our seat back.”

Both women said they also favor more price transparency and competition among health care providers to lower costs and improve care rather than by increasing the government’s role.

Craig has called for allowing the federal government to negotiate lower prices for hundreds of insulin and other prescription drugs. She also supported a public option to compete with private health insurance companies.

Cashin and Barr nonetheless differ in other ways, including their backgrounds. Barr was in the Minnesota House in 2017 and 2018, where she said she focused on supporting more mental health care in schools and elsewhere and was very proud of her role in 10-year packages for roads and bridges.

“It’s a willingness to take a look at a lot of bills, a lot of needs,” she said. “And then a willingness to prioritize.”

Barr said she has owned a corporate consulting and training firm for about 16 years. She said she hears people tired of talk without action and can sit down with other leaders and compromise. She added respects her fellow Republicans in the race but stands out.

“I’m the only person with a proven track record,” she said. “I’m the only person who’s won in the bluest part of this congressional district.”

Cashin has been with the Air Force since 1996 and a lieutenant colonel since 2010, according to her website.

She has advocated for women veterans and is now the sexual assault prevention and response program manager for the 934th Airlift Wing, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Station, where she said she trains hundreds of personnel on preventing, reporting and responding to sexual assault.

“We really want to make sure we’re taking care of our people,” Cashin said.

If in Congress, she hopes to curb government spending and change its budget cycle to prevent yearly budget crises, disagreements and shutdowns. She called herself a political outsider but proven leader.

“And I’ve used these skills to rally people together, to fight to achieve a shared goal,” she wrote on her website.