Friday, December 7, 2007

What is Excelsior lake frontage worth?

An article in the Lakeshore Weekly News outlines how the Excelsior City Council recently heard a proposal to allow for development of a lakeshore area on a small chunk of what is now the Commons / Port area. Under the proposal, the land would be provided to the developer in exchange for building a 2-story parking ramp somewhere in downtown, but it is unclear as to if that would be in what is now the East or West Lot.

The developer is The Landschute Group, who has also been involved in the Wyer-Hill project and 200 Water Street, among others. There is no doubt that both of those projects were well-done, tasteful projects that blend very well with the city of Excelsior. Quality of the developer's work is not an issue -- we think Landschute's work speaks for itself.

The real issues here are the land use question, and the land swap deal. It is one thing to take a burned down hardware store and make it into a timeless corner building, complete with an authentic and unique venue like Jake O'Connor's. A piece of lakefront property at The Commons, however, isn't exactly a brown lot yearning for redevelopment. It is a part of Excelsior which is currently enjoyed for views, walks, or merely to add to size of the Commons' greenspace, the South Lake's gem.

To be sure, this space isn't perfect. It is the home to trash collection bins for the charter boats and doesn't have the shoreline conducive to bluegill fishing or rock skipping like the rest of the Commons. But it is prime Lake Minnetonka frontage.

It seems that the fundamental questions on this topic are the following, in order of priority:

1. What is the best use of that lakefront lot for the residents of Excelsior? (i.e. what makes the town a more livable place -- the existing greenspace and views, more restaurants and retail, or something else?)
2. Would the proposed development accomodate the answer to question #1?
3. What is the best use of that lakefront lot for the health of downtown?
4. What is the value of a lakefront, downtown lot adjacent to a Commons area, and would this deal provide at least fair value in both the near-term and longer-term?
5. Would the benefits from this project cover the direct and indirect future costs -- future policing, parking, etc? Would this project encourage or inhibit additional commercial and residential projects in that immediate area?

The developer is quoted as saying "The city has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to comprehensively plan the crucial block of Excelsior." He is right. But the residents also need to decide if the real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is having a large piece of Lake Minnetonka lakefront undeveloped and accessible by all.

I haven't formed an opinion on this yet - I'm just examining the issue. It is a complex question with upsides and downsides and assumptions and permanent ramifications. Aldo Leopold had a quote that I keep coming back to, and I paraphrase: "Examine each question based on what is ethically and aesthetically right, in addition to what is economically expedient.”

1 comment:

  1. Whatever the outcome, it will be years coming. Look how long it took the city to figure out how to add a fourth dock at the commons.

    I'm betting nothing happens with this plan.