The redevelopment of any large land area can be very difficult to accomplish, especially when it is surrounded by homeowners who like the status quo.  This is especially true when the conversion involves a golf course: pastoral, quiet, well-landscaped (maybe a few stray golf balls).  The surrounding landowners (most often homeowners) understandably love the open space, the seasonal nature of the sport and the relative quiet they experience as a neighbor.  However, the redevelopment of golf courses has been occurring with some regularity for the past 20 years throughout the country as demographics and loyalty to the sport has changed.  Throughout Minnesota, and certainly throughout the metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul, at least a dozen golf courses have been closed and redeveloped, sometimes multiple courses in the same city.  In most instances, the closures were strongly resisted by citizens, especially by the directly affected residents of a given course.  Often the final decision on the redevelopment has been rendered by a judge.

All of these redevelopment conversions endure a lengthy public process to entitle the replacement use, most often a housing project of some sort.  They not only are costly and time-consuming to complete, but very often they are politically challenging.  No elected official wants to inject controversy into their community especially if that elected official has the final word on whether the proposed redevelopment goes forward.  Plymouth, Minnesota endured the most recent such redevelopment involving the former Hollydale Golf Course.  (this was the 4th course to close in Plymouth over the last decade or so).  The closure of Hollydale was a surprise as to timing only; its fate was known for some time as the owners had previously communicated their intentions to the city.

In the Internet age, a proposal to redevelop a site like Hollydale instantly draws a crowd—both opponents (plenty) and supporters (less visible).  Web site pages are quickly created, and links distributed far and wide, enabling commenters to not only weigh in from across a given city, but also literally from around the world.  It’s quite a thing to read posts from individuals who are not from the neighborhood, or even the subject community, who have an opinion and want you to know it!

In the case of Hollydale, the developer and landowners worked closely with city staff to create a very low-density land-use plan that tried to hit all the critical policy markers while avoiding (or fixing) obstacles to success.  That was not enough, unfortunately.  The neighborhood was well-organized and very active in expressing their opposition to the redevelopment and their advocacy for the city acquiring the site for some public use, even if only as open space.  After careful deliberation, the city declined to pursue acquisition, in part due to the high market value being placed on the land by the owners.  But even the clear decision was not enough; notwithstanding strong support of city staff and an extensive record supporting the redevelopment, opponents persisted and successfully prevailed on the City Planning Commission and the City Council to block the redevelopment, the latter decision by a narrow margin.

As often happens in this circumstance, and given the strong record in support of the redevelopment, the developer and owners sued the city to overturn the denial.  Fortunately, after reviewing the decision with city legal advisors, the city allowed the project to be resubmitted with several changes, but no loss of building lots.  The City Council voted to approve the revised redevelopment allowing the developer and owners to proceed with it.

The moral of the story: frankly not sure if there is one; persistence paid off in different ways for the developer and owners, as well as the opposed resident group.  The redevelopment process was unquestionably made more difficult and expensive for the developer.  And the pressure on City Council members was substantial and direct.  Fortunately, the City Council had the interests of the entire City of Plymouth in mind when it decided to settle the lawsuit and approve the redevelopment essentially as previously proposed.

Larkin Hoffman attorneys Peter CoyleGary Van Cleve and Bryan Huntington represented the Hollydale Golf Course developer in connection with its land use application and the related litigation leading to the final approval.