Lot near Diffley Square will stay commercial

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed real estate developers’ interest in Eagan.

Although it wasn’t approved, the Eagan City Council reviewed a request from MWF Properties during Tuesday’s meeting for a Comprehensive Guide plan amendment to change a 1.4-acre lot in Eagan from retail commercial to high density residential.

MWF Properties had a concept plan to construct a three-story, 48-unit affordable housing complex near Diffley Square along Blackhawk Road and Diffley Road west of I-35E.

Several residents were opposed to the development citing concerns about additional traffic, decrease to property values, the affordability aspect, density, building height, setbacks, parking and the loss of green space.

Most of the issues would have been more relevant to specific design plans, which weren’t up for discussion. The only item up for approval was the land use change, which didn’t pass.

Council Member Paul Bakken said he almost always votes down land use changes from commercial to residential for “tax base purposes” and feels like this was too dense of a development.

Council Member Meg Tilley, who participated virtually, also said the density was too high.

Council Member Cyndee Field said while it wasn’t technically part of the request, she’s supportive of affordable housing, but said the area is too small for a three-story apartment building.

Mayor Mike Maguire was willing to see a more “fleshed out plan” in the future to see if the issues could be mitigated.

Had the measure been approved, the city would have submitted a request for the land use change to the Metropolitan Council – the first step in the process.

Still, Maguire took issue with some residents’ assumptions about affordable housing.

He noted that neither the city nor the Metropolitan Council selects where to build housing, but developers “come to the city to ask for that land use change.”

Maguire noted that all developments have to live up to the same standards whether it’s market rate or receives government funding.

Under its current zoning plan, the lot could be used for restaurants, clinics, drug stores, funeral homes, gift shops, hardware stores, laundromats, liquor stores, photography studios, offices and sporting good stores among others. The lot has been guided neighborhood business since 1988, but hasn’t attracted any permanent businesses.

The city has seen several high density residential projects break ground recently.

The Eagan City Council approved the 204-unit Nicols Apartments affordable housing development at the southwest corner of Nicols Road and Diffley Road in July.

A new market-rate, 162-unit, four-story apartment complex called The Gallery of Eagan, is set to replace an aging office building near Central Park Commons. Ballantrae Apartments also has plans to expand.

Chris Stokka of MWF Properties said the ground will break for a different affordable housing complex called Lexington Flats this week. The four-story, 50-unit affordable housing development on Lexington Avenue northwest of its intersection with Lone Oak Road was approved in 2018.

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