Fire and ice

Thao Nguyen shared this image of the sun lighting up the horizon at Prior Lake’s Spring Lake.

A proposed development on Spring Lake could would bring 100 homes near Sunset Avenue and Marschall Road but has raised concerns among neighbors that it could harm wildlife habitat and add unwanted chaos to an otherwise tame locale.

John Anderson, representing Winkler Development Company, described his idea to develop the land at the Planning Commission meeting Monday. The developer is looking to add 100 lots for single-family homes and a dock of up to 100 boat slips, though the number of slips hasn't been decided, Anderson said. 

According to Jeff Matzke, city planner, it will be months before any action is taken. The City Council plans to discuss the development at its July 15 regular meeting.

“We’ve had a lot of people call concerned about the boat slips impacting the environment, but the city doesn’t have a lot of details because it’s a concept plan at this point,” Matzke said.

An environmental impact study is required for developments if certain thresholds are met, such as tree density and acreage. Matzke said it’s not likely that the 65-acres of land will require an environmental impact study, which is typically reserved for larger developments.

“There are more questions than answers at this point,” Matzke said.

Anderson, who lives in Prior Lake, told the commissioners that the developer plans to preserve “quite a few” trees. It will likely have to remove cattails to develop the proposed boat slips.

The boat slips would come off the corner of the wetlands. The conceptual layout on a rendering provided to the commissioner does not show a final design but rather a rough sketch of what the development might look like.

“There’s a possibility that we could clear in that area and put picnic tables there,” Anderson said.

The development would preserve about half of the land as wetlands, stormwater-treatment basins and other open space, including a trail, Anderson said. A large area along the lakeside that is submerged during high water and is covered in cattails would largely be left alone, he added. 

Lot construction would likely would run through 2021, potentially starting this winter, Anderson said. Home-building could continue in the years after. 

Christopher Crowhurst, a member of the Spring Lake Association, said he moved to Spring Lake so he and his wife could kayak in a safe, low-traffic area. He believes the potential development threatens the lake’s serenity, safety and habitats. An additional 100 slips on the lake would mean “effectively 40% more boats on the lake,” he said.

Spring Lake already has a little more than 200 homes and 50 additional docks, plus a small public boat launch, Crowhurst said. Spring Lake’s surface area is 587 acres, according to the Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District.

If 250 boats were on the lake at once, that would leave roughly two acres’ surface area per boat. According to a report by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, boat traffic density poses the highest risk of accidents and conflict when there are fewer than 10 acres of surface area per boat.

“Adding 100 boat slips would radically change the lake’s character,” Crowhurst said. “It would result in more accidents and conflict.”

The wetlands and cattail area are a nesting place for heron and cranes, the latter including several threatened and endangered species, he added.

“A plethora of small wildlife lives in that area,” Crowhurst said. “You have beavers, otters, turtles — it’s a natural beautiful habitat for the lake. ... You’re asking for a proliferation of environmental damage.”

Correction, 4 p.m. Monday, July 15: The original version of this article contained several errors and misstatements. The Spring Lake development could include up to 100 boat slips based on its lake frontage, but a specific number hasn't been proposed. One boat slip per 18 or so feet of shoreline is allowed; that figure doesn't represent a boat slip's square footage. Anderson said brush, not trees, might be removed for picnic tables. Much of the land's wetlands and cattails would be left alone under the concept he presented. 

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