See more of the story

A developer who unveiled plans to build hundreds of new apartments and homes on a rare tract of undeveloped lakefront property in Shoreview is facing fierce opposition from residents who say they are worried about the lake's health and other impacts on their neighborhood.

Developer Tycon Cos. wants to construct a 268-unit apartment building and 29 homes on Snail Lake, which is less than 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis.

The scenic 18.4-acre property was owned by the nonprofit Union Gospel Mission since 1930 and had been used as a youth summer camp and later as a residential treatment facility for men dealing with addiction. The nonprofit determined the site on Hwy. 96 fell outside its core mission and sold it to 580 Shoreview LLC in December 2020 for $8.75 million, according to property records.

"The fact there is an 18-acre parcel that is now being proposed for development in the middle of the city on a lake and a highway is pretty unique," said Assistant City Manager Tom Simonson. "It does create all sorts of issues. There are concerns about taking what is historically a passive use and turning it into a number of homes."

The vision of a new, denser development with a five-story apartment building next to a neighborhood of existing single-family homes did not go over well with dozens of residents who attended public meetings this fall and are urging city leaders not to rezone the property to allow for the new development. More than 600 people have signed an online petition opposing Tycon's plans.

"This is a bunch of houses next to a mammoth apartment building. … There is nothing that makes Shoreview better from this proposal," said resident Craig Neff. "We don't want it to be the mistake on the lake. We don't want it to be the big eyesore that looms over this beautiful body of water."

The developer is expected to seek formal approval next year. Tycon also needs approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the local watershed authority.

It's the latest in a series of high-profile clashes in suburban Ramsey County where developers are proposing denser, more urban projects in communities once largely defined by their single-family neighborhoods and open space. Developments in Vadnais Heights, Arden Hills and Maplewood also have faced strong pushback.

Neff and his fiancée, Jane Friedmann, who is organizing neighborhood opposition to the Snail Lake development, tick off a host of concerns: the development would take out dozens of landmark trees; the building would loom over the lake and the rest of the neighborhood; wetlands would be affected; 300 new households who have unfettered lake access would overwhelm and potentially destroy the ecosystem; and the dense development would ruin the quality of life for neighbors who bought their homes for peace, quiet and access to nature.

Friedmann said at least 100 people showed up at a planning commission meeting "quite shocked by the scale of this new proposal."

"There are so many objections to be made with this, mainly relative to the health of the lake and the environment," said Friedmann, a former Star Tribune columnist. "We bought in Shoreview on this lake because it's quiet and it's beautiful. This development will change all of that."

Friedmann said she also fears Tycon CEO and President Max Segler is too cozy with city leaders. Segler, a Shoreview resident, serves on the Shoreview Community Foundation board with Mayor Sandy Martin and has made donations to the philanthropy.

Martin pushed back on that accusation at a council meeting, saying she also donates 80% of her mayor's salary to the foundation. Martin, who has held the seat since 1996, said she was a "little incensed" at the accusation that any developer would try to purchase approvals.

But she also said she understands firsthand the fears neighbors expressed.

"In 1967, the reason I got involved in city government is precisely why you are all here. There was a proposal for 986 apartments within a football field of my home. I was worried about everything you are worried about, " Martin said. "One of the wonderful things about perspective and being around for a long time is that I have been able to witness many, many developments in this community just like this one. … None of my fears were realized. I have really good people in my neighborhood."

Martin also pushed back on the idea that the land simply shouldn't be developed.

"That is just not doable anymore. Property owners have rights," she said.

Segler declined to comment.

City staff and council members did provide some pointed feedback to Tycon. Council Member Cory Springhorn said he agreed with staff recommendations that the developer complete a traffic analysis, a market study and a tree preservation and replacement plan.

Springhorn also said the design of the apartment building should be changed so it appears less massive to neighboring properties and that public trails should be incorporated into the design.

"The message from the city was pretty clear," Simonson said. "There has to be some revision and downsizing of the proposed apartments, where most of the density is."