One by one, Vadnais Heights residents filed up to the front of the City Council chambers to once more voice their opposition to a proposed development in an area bounded by McMenemy Road and Bear Avenue. This time, however, developer Martin Harstad prevailed.

In a unanimous vote, the council agreed to change the zoning for the area from R1 residential to a planned unit development (PUD) for Bluebird Grove, allowing Harstad to begin the process of recording the plat once the council’s approval has been published.

It was an uphill battle for Harstad, who walked through the tract several times with City Council members, city staff and neighbors, sussing out their concerns about a piece of land that is what he terms a “valley.”

The final proposal puts 21 homes on six privately-owned lots. After working with the city and Vadnais Lake Area Management (VLAMO), Harstad came up with a plan that he believes will fix drainage problems in the area and preserve an existing wetland. Part of the plan includes digging up a portion of that wetland and making it deeper. There will be three holding ponds in the development that will take runoff that typically ponds there and channel it to places where it can safely drain away.

Council Member Greg Urban noted that the development will actually be less dense than what is required by the Metropolitan Council and is spelled out in Vadnais’ 2040 Comprehensive Plan. He said he is not a fan of a trail that would be built in the future, but noted that it was required to get watershed approval. “You’re getting 90% of what you wanted,” he told audience members.

Council Member Steve Rogers, who spoke before the vote, noted that neighbors had asked at a previous meeting if anyone on the council was listening. “I was listening,” he said. “It’s very clear that the people on Bear Avenue North do not want this development. I get that. But the Johnson estate contacted Mr. Harstad, and they made a private real estate transaction.”

He went on to say Harstad doesn’t need to pursue a PUD; he noted that the developer could plat the property any way he pleases as long as it followed city ordinances.

“I think this development is going to be successful,” he said. He concurred with Urban’s assessment that Harstad’s latest iteration of the development is “the best plan we’ve had so far.”


Cynthia Sowden is a contributing writer for Press Publications. He/she can be reached at or 651-407-1200.

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