New LeMay Lake development raises water-quality concerns in Mendota Heights


Developers are clearing trees and debris from the LeMay Shores townhouse site, in preparation for construction this spring and summer. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Concerned homeowners on the opposite side of LeMay Lake are keeping a close eye on the new lake-side treeline that marks the development's boundaries. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

In the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and the ground is blanketed with snow, Scott Norling says it’s easy to track tree-clearing activity along the elevated eastern shore of LeMay Lake in Mendota Heights. And he’s not happy with the new treeline that marks the edge of a development project across the water, he said.

“It looks like they went too far, because they started coming down the hill,” he said.

He said he’s worried about the loss of trees and the potential impact this altered landscape may have on the flow of rainwater runoff and the lake’s water quality. 

In light of inquiries from both concerned and curious residents, the city of Mendota Heights held an open house Jan. 22 to review plans to develop a neighborhood of townhouses along LeMay Lake, located south of Augusta Lake in southwest Mendota Heights. 

Responding to Norling’s conservation concerns, Ryland Homes representative Mark Sonstegard said the neighborhood is designed so that drainage will flow from the homes to the streets. From there, it will be channeled into two stormwater ponds for filtration before entering the city’s stormwater system. 

“We could have been closer to [the shoreline], but it doesn’t make sense because we want to protect the lake,” Sonstegard said.

Project changed hands

The city initially approved the development project in June 2007 for Hoffman Homes, the developer that completed the 46-lot Augusta Shores development project on the neighboring Lake Augusta in 2001. 

However, with the collapse of the housing market, Hoffman put the project on hold for a number of years before transferring ownership to Ryland Homes. 

Apart from new floor plans and adjustments to the development’s storm water management system, updated to meet new state standards, the blueprints approved by the city stayed the same. 

The LeMay Shore development project sits on 67 acres of land, between Resurrection Cemetery and the eastern shores of LeMay Lake. The new neighborhood will consist of 60 twin-home units, modeled with four floor plans. None of the new homes will have lake access.

At the open house, Ryland Homes representatives and city officials addressed questions about the project’s scope and timeline, along with the implications for nearby homeowners. 

“We hear from residents that they’re clearing areas that they shouldn’t, so we’re gonna walk the site again with them this week,” city engineer John Mazzitello said.

City officials will conduct regular inspections once construction starts this spring, he added. 

Ryland Homes division president Mike DeVoe cited the scenic quality of the lakeshore, which has concerned citizens on edge, as the very thing that attracted them to the location.

“It’s a pretty site with a lot of natural beauty,” he said, noting there’s a demand for single-level housing in the Twin Cities for empty nesters who want to be able to enjoy Minnesota summers but travel to warm places in the winter, knowing their property will be well-maintained by an association.  

Residents raise environmental concerns

The designated main point of access to the new homes, the connection of a residential drive to LeMay Lake Road, generated a separate set of complaints at the open house.

Longtime resident David Hiner asserted that this new road will cut through native swampland, which had previously served as a natural filtering system for runoff at the south end of the lake.

“They should have built a bridge across it,” Hiner said, pointing to the proposed location of the new road on an aerial map. “They took natural swamp out, which is supposedly a no-no.”

DeVoe said environmental considerations would have been vetted in the approval process with the city, and neither the city nor the developer identified any wetland conservation concerns that pertained to the development project.

Efforts to maintain LeMay Lake’s water clarity also ranked high on the list of resident concerns. Hiner claimed neighboring Lake Augusta’s clear water turned murky after Hoffman Homes built Augusta Shores there.  

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Lake Augusta’s water is impaired due to an excess of phosphorus that fuels the growth of algae. A recent water quality study on the lake, conducted by the Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization, says 87 percent of the phosphorus buildup comes from internal sources, including plants decomposing at the bottom of the lake.

Asked if there were any direct correlation between the decline of the Lake Augusta’s water clarity and the arrival of the Augusta Shores development, Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District spokesperson Joe Barten says there’s no evidence to support it. 

“It would be really difficult to pinpoint, especially if you don’t have really specific data,” he said, explaining that the study didn’t contain analysis that was specific to the development. 

Mazzitello said the fact that the lake began to show signs of impairment around the same time Hoffman Homes developed Augusta Shores was nothing more than a coincidence. 

“They came to the conclusion that the phosphorus load has been there for a substantial amount of time,” he said, referring to the same study. 

Plan to meet state requirements

Ryland Homes representative Shawn Wenzel explained that the developer’s plans comply with state requirements regulating things like sediment erosion control. They’ve established conservation easements surrounding the property and installed a silt fence along its entire perimeter to prevent sediment from running into the lake. In addition, Ryland Homes employs a third-party firm to inspect its stormwater management system every week, or after every rainfall over one inch of water.

“They make sure that everything is being treated, managed the right way so that stormwater runoff doesn’t pollute the various rivers and streams in the general area,” DeVoe said, explaining that this is standard procedure. 

Nancy Sloan, who has lived in the Augusta Shores development for 11 years, said she’s happy with her lake home and trusts that the LeMay Shores developers are taking the preservation of the lake into consideration. 

“They’re doing it, hopefully, in a good way,” she said. “I feel that our city will keep an eye on it, too.”

Even though Hines expressed a number of concerns, he said he appreciated the chance to talk things through with both city officials and the developers.

“In my opinion, they’re doing a much better job this time around,” he said, comparing this development project to the Augusta Shores project.

Streetlights, construction noise issues

Residents also discussed the addition of streetlights and construction noise as concerns. 

Traditionally, Mendota Heights has not included streetlights in its development plans — a characteristic some residents would like Ryland Homes to honor. 

Mazzitello said the developer plans to install streetlights, but the city will review these plans to best minimize issues such as light pollution. 

“We’re in the process of determining the quantity and location of streetlights for this project,” city planner Nolan Wall said. “It’ll be a negotiating point between the city and the developer.”

As for construction hours, the developer has agreed to limit work hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, as demanded by city ordinances.

Homes to be built by August

With tree removal nearly complete, debris cleanup and soil grading will continue through April. Street construction will begin in May, so the developers can complete model homes by late August. If it’s warm enough to make headway this spring, they hope to feature the new homes in the fall Parade of Homes this September. 

The city plans to hold another open house to discuss the project again before utility and road construction begin this spring. 

Sonstegard said they’ll start building and selling homes on the south end of the plot at an anticipated rate of two sales each month, with prices starting at $420,000 to $460,000. That price includes a finished basement and $35,000 in optional upgrades such as gourmet kitchens, wood floors and fireplaces. 

The company has already received a number of inquiries from prospective buyers, according to DeVoe.

“We think people will really appreciate all the different design characteristics of these homes,” DeVoe said. “We think it’s gonna be a very successful, fast-selling development.”

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

 

 
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