Joe Fisher, Community Reporter
joe@wayzata.com

The Minnetonka Planning Commission commented on a proposed concept by Eagle Brook Church to develop a new church and parking ramp at the site of the former Hillcrest Rehabilitation building.

Hillcrest Rehabilitation is was located at 15407 and 15409 Wayzata Blvd., with a horseshoe pocket street, Clare Lane/Clare Drive, leading to its public entrance. Eagle Brook Church, which has seven permanent campuses, three mobile campuses and an online service; is proposing a church building which would have a 1,200 seat worship facility, along with a 550-stall, two-level parking ramp. The church would be a one-level structure of about 80,000 square feet. Hillcrest Rehabilitation has a footprint of about 50,000 square feet.

This proposal is in the concept phase and Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting was only the second of at least five meetings it would need to be reviewed through. No application to develop has been formally submitted.

“This is our first pass at how we will fit on this site,” said Stephanie Hauber, expansion director for Eagle Brook Church. “We won’t be doing any infill of the wetlands. We will stay within the appropriate buffer of the wetlands.”
Hauber said the preservation of the existing wetlands and woodlands bordering the property is the reason behind pitching a large parking ramp.

“Typically we do surface parking but on this site we can’t,” she added. “We also want everyone to know successful traffic management is very important to us as a church. If people are concerned with the traffic, they won’t come back.”

This would be Eagle Brook Church’s eighth site build if it comes to fruition.

Commission chair Josh Sewall said more than 70 public comments were received and more than 20 callers were on hold to make comments at the meeting. A large majority of the callers were opposed to the development concept. Many of those comments were directed particularly at the size of the parking ramp and the volume of traffic brought into the neighborhood.

“Estimating 1.5 people for every car and 1,200 people in attendance — they knowingly anticipate 250 cars to overflow from their parking garage,” said Jenny Greffin, a resident of Clare Lane. “I had a conversation with Mark Hennessy, the spokesperson for the Eagle Brook Church expansion team. He personally told us Eagle Brook Church would not relocate anywhere people didn’t want them. Hopefully they honor that.”

Flannery Daley said she was concerned with a lack of communication from Eagle Brook Church to members of the neighborhood, a sentiment echoed by members of the commission.
“I find EBC’s statement that they care about the neighbors and our feedback disingenuous,” she said. “They chose not to attend a meeting the neighbors organized.”

One resident, Sandra Syfko, who is a member of Eagle Brook Church said the traffic and parking will not be what many people are fearing.

“I’ve been to all the campuses. These are gorgeous buildings,” Syfko said. “People need to think about the alternative. My concern is how the property is zoned. It is zoned for commercial use. You could have strip malls. I know you wouldn’t want Wal-Mart. I wouldn’t either.”

City planner Loren Gordon clarified the potential uses of the property according to its zoning district and comprehensive plan. It is zoned for offices, residential and retail use, and can match the comprehensive plan guidelines for institutional use.

The commission agreed a church is a reasonable use for these adjoining properties, but the size of the proposed concept is too much.

“I feel like where we’re at tonight, there are almost two projects: the church and a huge parking ramp nobody likes,” said vice chair Alex Hanson. “The feeling I have is, nobody wants a parking ramp in their backyard and I understand that. If the church came with what I’ll call a more normal-sized parking scale it feels like more people would be comfortable.”

The commission also advised more details should be presented with the concept, including renderings of what the site would look like from the neighbors’ point of view. The concept will be reviewed next by the Minnetonka City Council on Feb. 28.

“I would advise the city council that I do think it’s fair to somehow incorporate the residents of Wayzata, especially because this property butts up against residents of Wayzata,” said Sewall. “We’ve heard about being a good neighbor. As the city of Minnetonka, we need to be good neighbors too to our neighbors in Wayzata.”

The property is listed for sale by Newmark out of Minneapolis.