By Scott Carlson
Developers may build up to 450 units of housing on a 15.5- acre redevelopment site at Luther Seminary. But the team is also pledging to preserve as much of that property—called Breck Woods—a prized, seven-acre parcel of open space, as possible.
“This site is a jewel,” David Motzenbecker, of Motz Studios, said of Breck Woods. “There is nothing else like it.” The developer team, led by Master Properties Minnesota LLC, believes that preserving Breck Woods “is something we agree with you on.”
Motzenbecker’s comments came at community meeting this month where Master Properties introduced the members of its development team regarding the Luther Seminary redevelopment parcel. Some 150 neighbors and residents attended the meeting, which was hosted by the St. Anthony Park District 12 Community Council.
Don Gerberding, a principal at Master Properties, assured the audience that his development team is soliciting citizen ideas for the project and wants to collaborate with the neighborhood on its redevelopment plans. Currently, “we don’t have a plan, we have an assemblage of concepts,” Gerberding said. “It is early [in the process].”
The developers’ concept plan envisions 110 units of senior co-op housing, 110 units of senior assisted living, 120 units of affordable rental housing, 110 unit of multi-family, market-rate housing and 30 units of for-sale ownership housing.
“We want to develop the buildings on one side and leave as much of the woods as possible said Motzenbecker, whose business is a Minneapolis-based provider of therapeutic forest immersion walks.
Gerberding said his team is willing to grant a perpetual conservation easement that would run through the Breck Woods to protect them from development, as well as consider selling that open space to a citizen group or nonprofit.
Master Properties said it wants to make use of the hilly topography of the 15.5-acre parcel to minimize the height of residential buildings on the existing neighborhood. The tentative plan is to carry out interior renovation of the Seminary’s Bockman Hall building in the fall and start new housing construction sometime in 2020.
“We have a year-and-a-half to thoughtfully plan” Gerberding said.
The developers said they plan to create an “engagement schedule” with help from the District Council and a citizen advisory committee. Other partners in the Master Properties development team include Cunningham Group, United Properties, Common Bond Communities and Simek Realty.
After the community meeting, resident Cynthia Ahlgren said she liked some but not all of what she heard from the developers.
“I liked the landscape architect’s example of work he had done for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden [in Minneapolis],” said Ahlgren, a leader in a group called Save Breck Woods. However, I was not accepting of the idea of taking down a part of Breck Woods to build a 110-unit apartment. The woods is a natural ecosystem of complex interdependent organisms—some known, but most not yet recognized. Diminishing a part of it also harms the whole.
“It is painful to see any encroachment into the woods, but especially from such a large building,” Ahlgren added. “I still hope that can be avoided.”
Community groups and of residents have been lobbying to save Breck Woods, contending it is an irreplaceable natural resource. Breck Woods is home to some endangered species such as the rusty patched bumblebee and appears to represent some last relatively undisturbed section of the historic Mississippi River gorge.
Last May, Luther Seminary’s board of directors approved selling the 15.5-acre parcel in line with its “Campus of the Future” plan. The sale includes the campus epicenter, Bockman Hall, as well as Northwestern Hall, Stub Hall dorms, the LDR Apartments, and Breck Woods, the seven acres of wooded land bordering the Lauderdale Nature Area.
The land sale is all part of reshaping a seminary that no longer houses all of its students throughout the school year.
“We need a different campus,” Morrow told the Bugle last spring. “We have a much different student base. The campus we have was designed for larger enrollment with everyone here taking classes full time. Today we have 500 students. About half are in the distributed-learning program, which means they live all over the country [and] take most of their classes online. We don’t have that many people here.”
Luther Seminary has slowly been selling under-used portions of its property for several years. In 2014, the seminary sold five apartment buildings on Eustis Street to Greenway Village. Senior housing developer Ecumen bought 1.6 acres at Luther Place and Como Avenue in 2015 to build Zvago, a 49-unit co-op currently under construction. HealthPartners purchased 4.5 acres of land across from its Como Avenue building in 2016 to build a replacement clinic.