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New Bielenberg Gardens designs stir discussion

Designs for a new grocery store-anchored retail development aren’t as vibrant, pedestrian friendly and out of the ordinary as one Woodbury advisory commissioner had thought.

Bill Betten said Bielenberg Gardens plans that came before Planning Commission Monday were “disappointing” and not in line with the original vision of the retail area that lies within the new mixed-use Urban Village development.

United Properties submitted the proposal for Bielenberg Gardens with 11 lots and the 68,000 square-foot grocery store with an adjacent retail building. Developers say they’re planning for a coffee shop, gas station, a bank and other everyday services to serve the growing southern part of Woodbury and northern Cottage Grove.

Architects say the design of the retail development with trees, plants, prairie-style light fixtures and large patios will reinforce the “garden theme” and encourage the walkability factor within the development as well as nearby Bielenberg Sports Center.

But Betten said the scattered buildings and their smaller sizes don’t seem to favor a new idea he was hoping would be the “gem” of Woodbury.

“I’d like to see this something special,” he said at the Planning Commission meeting. “This feels to me like more of the same.”

Betten and Al Rudnickas were the two members out of five attending to vote against the plans, giving the developers the go-ahead to start work on the first phase of the project -- the grocery store.

Each one of the other retailers will come before the commission separately in the future as specific users are identified.

Planning Commission also OK’d a few deviations from current city standards in terms of lot sizes and stone work requirements.

The Bielenberg Gardens proposal aims for smaller lot sizes with large setbacks to balance the “urban vs.suburban” challenge, said Kathy Anderson, president of Architectural Consortium, LLC, who noted the overall layout promotes pedestrian-oriented paths.

She explained that having smaller standalone buildings -- as opposed to the strip mall type -- will allow for the large outdoor patios and interconnectivity and will give the whole center a “charming feel.”

“I hate to stray from rules unless I think they’re right,” she said.

Woodbury City Planner Eric Searles said the Urban Village master plan, which was approved in 2011 for the entire quadrant south of Bailey Road and west of Radio Drive, allows for smaller buildings as well as larger ones as long as they fit the “village” theme.

“Although the buildings are small, they do meet the intent of the ordinance,” he said.

But Planning Commission chair Rusty Nereng said it’s not so much the size of the buildings that bothered him, it’s that they’re clustered separately throughout the development.

“This is the standards that we see throughout Woodbury,” he said of the layout.

Betten compared Bielenberg Gardens to City Centre and other retail developments that he said have not been “our greatest design movement here.”

“What I see from this is people are going to get in their cars and drive from building to building,” he said. “It’s unlikely people are going to walk from place to place.”

City Council Member Christopher Burns, who attended the meeting as a liaison to the City Council, said once the entire Urban Village comes to life with townhomes, senior units and parks, the retail development will eventually match the original vision.

He also said the southern portion of the city can benefit from everyday services that won’t necessarily compete with what’s already there in the north.

As a frequent Bielenberg Sports Center attendee, Burns said he can see the proposed pedestrian paths will be easy to follow from the center to the retailers of Bielenberg Gardens.

United Properties has partnered with Jerry’s Enterprises, Inc. to work on the grocery store. An opening date has not been set yet.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the number of commissioners voting against this project. The project moved 3-2 with Bill Betten and Al Rudnickas voting against the plans. Planning Commission members Kay Hendrikson and Irfan Ali were absent.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.