Savage’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan is complete, but disagreement over the future of 9 acres of land prevented preliminary approval by the Savage City Council late last month.
Some local officials say the vacant land on the outskirts of Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve could provide an opportunity for condominiums, upscale apartments or senior living. Several dozen residents, meanwhile, have signed a petition opposing a re-zoning classification in the comprehensive plan that could foster this type of development.
“I understand the concern about what might be built, but that’s market-driven. This is a planning document,” said council member Christine Kelly at the Jan. 22 council meeting.
On Feb. 4, the council is scheduled to hold another vote on the plan.
At the earlier meeting, council member Gene Abbott voted against the comprehensive plan, stating he understood the concerns reflected in the petitions and didn’t see a need for a high-density zoning classification for the parcel in question.
With council member Matt Johnson absent, the 3-1 vote halted the plan from passing to the next stage of review by the Metropolitan Council and adjacent cities because it needed four votes to pass.
“I understand that people are going to be upset about change, but this one just doesn’t fit the bill, it doesn’t make any sense,” said resident Shasta Frandrup at the meeting.
Frandrup, a resident in the 15000 block of Dakota Avenue, spent two afternoons knocking on doors in south Savage to tell residents about the change the comprehensive plan could spark.
“Virtually everyone was against this,” he said.
Frandrup collected around 70 petition signatures, and an online petition has drawn over 200.
“I see it as an advantage for our community and our long-term goals, and I don’t think it’s as significant of a change as we are trying to make it out to be,” council member Bob Coughlen said.
The planning process
The city’s comprehensive planning process kicks off every 10 years when the Metropolitan Council completes their regional comprehensive plan and provides a framework for each city’s needs.
The comprehensive plan includes chapters on natural resources management, transportation and economic development, to name a few.
The statement from The Metropolitan Council directing Savage’s plan is around 30 pages long and forecasts what Savage will look like in terms of population, households and employment in 2040, according to Erin Perdu, a planning consultant with WSB.
Savage is classified as a suburban community, which means planners need to strive for a minimum density of five dwelling units per acre of land available for development or redevelopment, Perdu said. The plan should also show land is available to support regional and local goals, such as more affordable housing.
“You’re not required to make sure that development happens; that’s left up to the developers and the market,” Perdu said.
Savage Planning Manager Bryan Tucker said the contested land is a suitable area for high-end apartments or condos that might attract young professionals or appeal to empty-nesters. Two adjoining parcels to the east of the 9-acre parcel have been zoned for high-density residential use since 2001.
Despite opposition, Tucker said the plan furthers an important city goal of offering a mix of housing options for every stage of life.
Tucker said the city faced similar opposition 10 years ago when they moved forward with the plans that brought residential development to south Savage — many of the resulting homes are occupied by residents that oppose the new changes, he said.
“So to be honest, 10 years ago, there were people sitting in your seats saying we want south Savage to stay exactly as it is — we want hobby farms and horses, and leave us alone,” he said at the public hearing. “We’re a suburb, it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when and how.”
While affordable housing remains in demand, Tucker said it would be highly unlikely for the south Savage high-density land to develop this way because it doesn’t match affordable housing requirements, such as close proximity to public transportation.
But many south Savage residents oppose any type of high-rise or high-density dwelling — high-density zoning prohibits single-family homes.
“The aesthetic of the park will be visually polluted when apartment buildings border it,” said south Savage resident Brett Baker.
Baker and his family recently moved to Savage from south Minneapolis to seek peace and quiet, and he said high-density residential developments will diminish the value of the park reserve.
Other residents shared concerns about overcrowding on the roads and in schools, disruption to wildlife and noise.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Abbott questioned if the Metropolitan Council targets would be met without the zoning reclassification, to which Tucker responded they would be.
“I think we are talking about something pretty minor when we are looking at the whole city,” said Savage Mayor Janet Williams.
“That’s my feeling; to me, why high density on that third lot?” Abbott replied. “Just leave it medium-density if it’s not going to have any effect with Met Council, why not? Why increase it?”