When Ida Granger first saw Five Mile Prairie in 1938, it was a wide-open space dotted by orchards and farms.
She was 5 years old, and the prairie was a playground for her and her sister, MaryLou. There were 30 houses spread across the landscape.
“Dad farmed 10 acres,” she remembers. “He gradually bought more and more - and he bought a bigger tractor.”
Ida and her sister, together with their husbands, now own the last large piece of prairie property that hasn’t been approved for development. Ida and Willie Forsgreen still live on the land.
For decades, the couple and their neighbors battled development on the plateau rising above the booming city below.
They fought to stop city water and sewer service to the city, knowing that subdivisions wouldn’t be far behind.
They fought for better roads and protection of farm lands.
Now the fight is over.
They’re selling most of their land to developer Greg Yost.
“It’s too late to save the prairie,” says Willie Forsgreen. “Maybe it could have been saved 30 years ago, but now it’s too far gone.”
There are 500 homes on the prairie now, another 2,000 have already been approved for construction.
“Change is inevitable,” says Yost. “The writing was on the wall in 1991 when county zoning was changed from agricultural to urban residential.”
The Forsgreens were contacted by Yost two years ago.
“I spent about a year trying to find a buyer for the property,” says Yost.
During that time, he said he developed trust and a strong working relationship with the couple.
“I feel I have a responsibility to the Forsgreens. They are trusting me with their retirement,” he said.
“I have to do the best I can to make it work for them.”
Ironically, the developer’s plans for the Forsgreen property - a 238-unit manufactured home park and a 138-unit subdivision - are among the largest and most controversial developments ever proposed on the prairie.
“We’d prefer to sell the land to a farmer - but who wants to farm anymore?” says Ida Forsgreen. “There’s no money in farming.”
When he first heard about Yost’s plans for the 155 acres - including the manufactured home park - Willie Forsgreen balked.
“I thought ‘That’s going to be a disaster,”’ he said.
Yost persisted, providing details about a treed boulevard, waterfall entrance, putting green, swimming pool, recreation hall and on-site manager for the development. The Forsgreens were convinced.
Yost is planning a mix of housing, including manufactured homes in Willow Run, traditional housing in Prairie Breeze, and one-acre lots at Granger Terrace.
“With three totally different communities planned, we have a better opportunity to market those areas and have quicker sales,” says Yost.
The county planning department has approved the manufactured home park, but the Five Mile Neighborhood Council has filed an appeal.
The neighborhood has a range of concerns about the developments, including storm-water runoff and inadequate roads.
Yost says because of neighborhood concerns, he is delaying the Prairie Breeze project while a full environmental impact study for the area is complete.
He plans to collect water runoff into large ponds, rather then sending it underground.
“This portion of the prairie doesn’t have drainage problems,” says Yost. “I didn’t have to (provide runoff ponds), but I heard the community say they are concerned, and I’m trying to mitigate it.”
Yost is also contributing $1,450 per lot for road improvements. But prairie residents remain wary.
Word of the proposed manufactured home park, together with a slew of other developments proposed for the prairie, sparked organization of the Five Mile Prairie Neighborhood Council in June.
The Forsgreens have been active in neighborhood groups protecting the prairie for 30 years. This time they stepped back.
“We’d like to be in the group, but we don’t feel we can right now,” said Ida Forsgreen. Still, she urges the neighborhood council to forge ahead.
“I’d like to see the group put on enough pressure to get the roads out here fixed,” she said.
When Ida and her parents, Edward and Hazel Granger, moved to the Prairie, there were only dirt roads.
The family raised chickens. Ida remembers they had more than 1,000 hens. She and her sister were responsible for collecting and cleaning the eggs.
Ida and Willie met at Mead High School. Their first years of marriage were spent in the city.
But as their two daughters approached school age, Ida convinced Willie the best place to raise a family was Five Mile Prairie.
They moved and began working the farm with her parents, their own roots growing deeper into the land with each passing year.
For 30 years, Forsgreen, a longtime farmer, fought to keep development confined to the prairie rim and away from rich soil in the center.
“It’s beautiful, beautiful soil,” says Ida Forsgreen.
“There isn’t a view from the inside of the prairie, there’s no reason people should build there,” says Willie.
Along with other neighbors, the couple spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours hoping to help control development on the prairie.
But growth came anyway.
New homeowners, many moving to the prairie for the country charm, complained about roosters crowing, dust from fields and tractors rolling slowly along the narrow roads.
“I can’t even go down the roads in our tractors the way we use to,” says Willie Forsgreen. “We used to have just a few cars, now it’s practically a freeway.”
Although they are selling most of the family farm, the Forsgreens have no intention of leaving the prairie. They are keeping their house and a bit of land.
“We hope it will work out, we really, really do,” says Ida Forsgreen.
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