The St. Anthony Planning Commission voted Feb. 26 to recommend Continental Property Group’s proposal to the City Council. However, it tacked on an amendment that urged the council to strongly tie the financing of future housing projects to increased levels of affordable housing in the city. The move came near the end of an emotional, nearly three-hour public hearing. More than 60 people were in attendance.
At the beginning of the meeting, Commission chair Dominic Papatola reminded the crowd that the commission’s decisions are advisory and the council has the final say on the project. He also asked the crowd to refrain from applauding or commenting out loud about the proposal until the discussion opened for public comments.
Changes to the plan
City Planner Breanne Rothstein began by summarizing changes in the proposal for the commission. She noted that the Bremer Bank site is no longer part of the development. Population density is significantly lower at 28 units per acre, which meets the city’s comprehensive plan. Surface parking has been increased, and the site has more green space. The buildings are shorter, topping out at 45 feet. There is no connection to the alley at the back of the site, and there are 70-ft. setbacks all the way around the property. Grading the property will also require fewer retaining walls. Storm water will be collected in ponds on the property; the ponds will be aerated in the summer.
Link Wilson, Kaas Wilson Architects, fleshed out the details for the commissioners and added demographic data. He expects the average age of people in the senior building to be 75. Two-bedroom apartments would be occupied by married couples; one-bedroom apartments are usually rented to single women. Most would move one or two miles from their homes to The Village.
The assisted living building would house people with an average age of 85 to 86 years. The building would contain 16 memory care units and 17 to 25 staff would be on hand to assist residents.
The market rate building would have 77 studio apartments, 100 one-bedroom apartments, 36 one-bedroom-plus apartments and 12 two-bedroom apartments.
Many of the citizens who stepped up to the microphone praised the developer for listening to the community and responding to requests to decreased the proposed population density and eliminate many of the features they felt were unnecessary, such as townhouses backing up to the alley and a park. Still, they expressed reservations.
First up was attorney Jack Cann, who represented the displaced residents of the Lowry Grove mobile home park. “Housing at 80 percent of AMI [average market income] is not affordable,” he said. “HUD defines affordable housing at 50 percent AMI. In spite of the city’s promises, the mention of affordable housing in this proposal is glaringly absent.”
Nancy Robinett said she represented Saint Anthony Villagers for Community Action (SAVCA) and said she was opposed to the proposal. “The Metropolitan Council says St. Anthony needs to build 38 units of affordable housing, assuming they build 100 in the next ten years. This plan is insufficient. It lacks housing for families. The units will only be affordable for as long as CPG decides they are.”
Someone asked what the rents would be. Link Wilson said a projected range of rental costs for the various units would be available at the March 27 City Council meeting.
Antonia Alvarez, one of the displaced Lowry Grove residents, spoke through an interpreter of the hardships people from the mobile home park have endured. “One man committed suicide. Many families are still homeless,” she said. “Some families are separated.”
Another woman, who said she is a health care worker, wondered who would move into the assisted living units. “Assisted living is expensive,” she said. “The Legends across the street is not full. Who is going to live here?”
Others said they felt tax increment financing (TIF) would be inappropriate for a project that did not include affordable housing.
The Commission’s response
Commissioner Jedd Larson appeared to struggle for words. He noted that the proposal called for only 12 three-bedroom apartments, and wondered, “Where are the families going to go? If we can’t require affordable housing in this development, can we require it elsewhere? It’s incumbent upon us to provide housing for people of all economic statuses.”
The commission turned to Breanne Rothstein for advice. She told them there were three ways the commission could encourage building affordable housing in St. Anthony: Through zoning according to Met Council guidelines, regulation through zoning, or financial incentives such as TIF.
Commissioner Marcey Westwick said she was struggling with affordable housing and the city’s commitment to it. “I want to encourage the commission to look into this going forward,” she said.
Commissioner Mark Kalar drafted an amendment to be sent with the CPG proposal: Recommendation that the City Council strongly consider tying financial tax incentives for this development to affordable housing, and including housing for families and across all buildings within the development.
The commissioners voted unanimously to send the proposal on to the City Council, which will discuss the proposal at its March 27 meeting. They voted six to one for the amendment; Papatola cast the dissenting vote.