Lauderdale residents concerned about sale of ‘Breck Woods’

By Kristal Leebrick

Lauderdale residents who live on a small stretch of Fulham Street north of Hoyt Avenue won’t know until mid-May if or when Luther Seminary will put the land behind their homes on the market for development, but they’re already looking for ways to save the nature area known as Breck Woods from bulldozers.

Fulham neighbors learned about the seminary’s possible sale of its remaining 7 acres of land in Lauderdale when they met with Michael Morrow, the seminary’s vice president of finance and administration, and real estate consultant Tanya Bell at Lauderdale’s Comprehensive Plan open house in March.

Morrow’s office said it’s “premature to make any definitive statement” about a sale until after the seminary presents its campus-plan recommendations at a board of directors meeting May 10 and 11. Nevertheless, “we felt it was important to share our thinking with the city early so they could incorporate that information into their planning,” Morrow said. “Once Luther Seminary determines its direction for long-term campus use, we expect to work through formal community-engagement channels in Lauderdale and St. Paul, as applicable in moving the planning forward.”

Heather Butkowski, Lauderdale’s city administrator, said the city is months away from finalizing its comprehensive plan, which guides land use in the municipality.

“[The homeowners], of course, see the highest and best use as keeping the green wild woods,” said Fulham resident Lynn Abrahamsen. To that end, the neighbors on the street are exploring Department of Natural Resources grants and other funding that could help the city purchase the land to keep it a nature area.

Breck Woods abuts the Lauderdale Nature Area, which is owned by the city. The wooded area consists of two ravines separated by an abandoned railway embankment. The ravine north of the tracks is owned by Lauderdale. The ravine south of the tracks is part of Breck Woods. The area includes a mix of oak, maple, cottonwood, willow and dogwood, as well as a variety of wild flowers. Dog walkers and nature lovers know it as a place to spot numerous species of birds and wildlife. There are frequent sightings of owls, hawks, deer, fox and coyote, according to Ann Sisel, who also lives on Fulham.

The land sits southwest of the southern part of the University of Minnesota golf course off of Larpenteur Avenue and east of the Greenway Village Apartments on Eustis. The area is referred to as Breck Woods because the land was originally owned by Breck School, which had a campus on Como Avenue until 1956. The city of Lauderdale has an easement on the property for a retention pond that was created in 1994 as a part of a housing development.

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 coop currently under construction. HealthPartners purchased 4.5 acres of land across from its Como Avenue building in 2016 to build a replacement clinic. The date for the clinic groundbreaking was projected to take place three to four years after the purchase.

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