Highland Oaks zoning changes approved

Before approving the second reading Oct. 15 for the rezoning of the Highland Oaks development, the city council, namely Mayor Ron Case, wanted to double-check whether clearing trees on the property was being completed per the development agreement between the city and contractors.

Though the mayor did not pull the second reading from the consent calendar, he did address the Eden Prairie City Council and staff members to publicly check on whether things were proceeding as planned.

The consent calendar, approved with a single vote of the council, is a regular agenda item that lumps several items previously addressed by the panel. Case raised a concern after he had received correspondence from residents about tree loss on a hill near the development.

“I was wondering if that is what was expected,” Case said in bringing the issue to the floor of the council. “I wondered if staff has had a chance to go out and verify or validate ... and/or to assure our residents that we know what’s happening and in fact that we believe there were some trees saved that we weren’t sure of. The large heritage did get saved, as well as two additional, I believe.”

The issue of the new development came to the council in early September when residents and council members expressed concerns about the removal of at least one heritage tree from the property, which will eventually include 17 single-family lots.

According to city documents, “the meeting discussion occurred regarding the potential to revise the grading plan in order to save a heritage tree in the southwest corner of the property. The developer worked with staff to revise the grading plan and tree preservation plan. As a result of those efforts, the tree discussed on Sept. 3 was saved along with three additional trees in the vicinity. The plans listed in the Development Agreement include these changes and count these four trees as saved.”

City Manager Rick Getschow confirmed the saving of the trees, answering the mayor’s questions about the property.

“You hit on the one point and that’s during the first reading was saving a heritage tree or two,” Getschow said. “You see that the developer was able to do that, so the city is very pleased with that and the neighborhood is pleased. I can’t say at this moment if our staff has been out to verify that the removals fit exactly with what the plans show, but we do that and will verify that,” he added.

Case went on to explain the city’s commitment to its trees and some of the things the city does to make sure the code is met.

He said that the number of trees saved, per the city’s code, “is a lot.”

Adding a comment about the city’s regulations, he said, “We replace a lot [of trees] and for the sake of our residents, at the workshop this evening we had an association that is over 20 years old come in with concerns their trees that were placed at the time of their development in the 1990s are so full. There’s 3,000 of them down at the Heritage Village, and they can’t really replace underneath the canopy. So, in other words, we have a great tree replacement ordinance. I know that people don’t want to wait 25 years, but it will look very nice, I’m sure, with all the new plantings. Those of us who have been on the council for years––it’s change that is always most difficult. But I do want to make sure that the trees taken down were those that were exactly planned, and my belief right now is that those were all planned and were approved in our developer’s agreement.”

With the assurance that staff would be reviewing the work and the trees that had been saved, the council approved the consent agenda, including that for Highland Oaks’ zoning changes.

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