HUGO — A proposal for an approximately 80,000 square foot, three-story apartment building will move on to the City Council despite considerable resident opposition.
The Planning Commission held a public hearing March 28 to consider a site plan and conditional use permit (CUP) for Rosemary Apartments (formerly known as Frenchman Lofts) on the property located north of Rosemary Way and west of Everton Avenue, just north and east of Festival Foods.
Community Development Director Rachel Juba walked the commissioners through the project. She explained the 80,000 square feet includes every level, including the underground parking level. The actual building footprint of the project is closer to 20,000 square feet, she noted. The 18-acre site includes several wetlands, with only approximately 4.6 acres of buildable land.
The property, which is a part of the Frenchman Place Development, has a master plan that was created back in 2008. The developer, MWF Properties, submitted a concept plan for the project last summer.
Juba explained the project does meet the zoning requirements of R-5 (medium-density, multiple-family residential), which calls for 10 units per acre. The 45 units would include a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units.
The workforce housing apartment complex would be rented to persons or families who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less. “That equates to $45,000 to $60,000, depending on the household size,” Juba said. Rents would average $725 for one bedroom, $985 for two bedrooms or $1,200 for three bedrooms.
“The developer has done a good job with the overall site plan and the general design of the building,” Juba said. “Staff will continue to work with the developer on the required revisions to the plans and architecture. Staff finds the proposal meets all the requirements necessary for the city to approve a site plan and CUP.”
Development Manager Chris Stokka explained MWF Properties has a very similar 72-unit project in Forest Lake. “That one is all two- and three-bedroom units. It is oriented toward families, and it worked really well with that location and community. We wanted to replicate that. We did incorporate some one-bedrooms to help with the size of the building footprint, but we really like to emphasize family housing.”
Stokka also explained the subsidized housing. “It is a federal tax credit that we apply for through the county; it goes toward construction cost. Renters are treated just like any other renter: background check, references. The only additional requirement is there will be a max income they can’t exceed.”
During the public hearing, 10 people voiced their opinions on the project, many of them making multiple trips up to the podium.
Longtime resident Arnie Treimert, who lives on Everton Avenue, shared his concern with water on the property. “The water runs south, and there are a lot of wetlands ... Any land that gets flooded out, I want to be compensated for it. Have any of you guys gone by that land and looked? You will see a river going to the west coming straight down. It is literally a river.”
Everton Avenue resident John Udstuen echoed Treimert’s concerns. “When Pratt Homes came in and built all those townhomes, maybe there wasn’t enough watch dogs or the city was too new at that point, to really understand what happens with the water flowage. After the fact, we have no recourse, and I found that out against Pratt Homes,” he explained. “I have a pole barn and pool that heaved, and a garage that was busted up so bad I had to get an engineer in to fix it. Every time you lay bituminous and put a rooftop on and redirect water from its natural percolation, you are changing things. You can’t go back to these people and say ‘You ruined my house.’ It doesn’t work.”
Everton Avenue resident Michael Happ said “I have lost 3 acres under water ... There is such a history of water problems on Everton Avenue. There were so many promises made, so many engineers that were involved, it couldn’t happen — and lo and behold, we all have the problem. We are beyond skittish and we are kind of angry, actually. This does not make sense. There is no place to put the water,” he said.
Everton Avenue resident Steve Rossini said he was concerned with government-subsidized housing and cited a few studies on the topic. “A study by investor.com argues (that) development of subsidized apartments and other affordable housing options in low-density areas could increase crime and congestion and lower property values. It could also stretch school systems,” he said. “You are bringing people from the inner city out here because now they can afford the rent where they couldn’t before.”
Rossini added he felt the project did not meet two specific requirements of a CUP: specifically, that it has to be compatible with the character of the surrounding area and that it has adequate road access and does not reduce the safety or capacity of the public road system. “The city has an obligation to enforce building codes to protect the investment, the safety and quality of life of current city residents. I believe the city would fall short of this obligation if Rosemary Apartments is allowed to go forward,” He said. “I believe it would be a mistake to bring low-income, government-subsidized housing to this city.”
Udstuen also touched on the topic. “I have owned three businesses over 30 years... every one of those have strictly worked with and distributed to subsidized housing. When you take people that can’t afford to live in an area and put them in an area, it absolutely devalues property and makes things more difficult to sell,” he said. “I believe the city has an obligation to protect the residents that are already here. We shouldn’t have to bend over backwards, lose money and devalue our properties just so the new kid on the block has a chance to come in.”
Resident Paula Cardinal, who lives on 149th Street N., said, “I owned a Section 8 duplex, and let me tell you, it was nothing but junk. I had to replace sliding-glass doors, carpet ... One guy even had his motorcycle in the living room,” she said. “They don’t care. They don’t have the money, they are getting it from the government. I have a huge concern of bringing down property values for the rest of us.”
Resident Christopher Gist mirrored Cardinal’s concerns. “I have lived here 11 years, and this was the first notice of a public hearing that raised my eyebrows ... The vision of Hugo that was presented to us 11 years ago that has been consistently communicated over subsequent years really wasn’t one that would consider or support low-income, medium- to high-density housing, and I worry about that precedent from a property value perspective.”
Fairoaks Circle resident Tracy Gist said she is not opposed to apartment buildings but is concerned with how the project will impact class sizes at Hugo and Oneka elementaries.
Rosemary Way resident Nina Brooks said her main concern is the building height. “That’s not why we moved to Hugo. We moved here because of the wetlands, migratory birds and the natural wetland areas, not holding ponds.”
Everton resident Kathleen Skaj said, “I am opposed to a 46-foot-tall building in the middle of a swamp.”
Juba explained there would have to be grading work done, so the base of the building would likely be about 8 feet above ground; however, the building would still have to meet city regulations limiting maximum height to 35 feet. If the developer is not able to meet that, they would need to request a variance.
Rosemary Way resident Erin Kimball said she was concerned about the lack of a park. She also was concerned about the impact the added traffic would have on the nearby townhomes and the Victor Gardens roundabout. The proposal does include a small play area for children who live in the complex.
Developer defends project
After the public hearing, Stokka addressed some of the residents’ concerns.
“We are the developer, but we will also own the property and we have an in-house management company. Our company has been doing this type of development for 20 years, and we have never sold a property,” he said. “We don’t want a property that is going to flood or have issues; we take great steps to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Stokka added, “Property value always comes up at these public hearings. It is probably the number one concern that we receive. We have done 30 of these developments: some are a lot more dense and a lot taller than the one we are proposing. We have looked and we have never seen them negatively impact property values. You can look it up, do your own research. You could probably find one that says they do, but you could also find, I think, many more that say they don’t as long as it is properly managed.”
Planning Commission comments
David Fry said, “My main view is this doesn’t really fit the character of the area. It is not that much of a reach, it is not that far away, it is not totally outrageous.”
Kim Luehsinger said she felt the project was in line with the character of the area and this type of project should be encouraged and welcomed in the city of Hugo. “One of the things I really like about Hugo is that there is a lot of different housing options available here,” she said. “I think adding another option that appeals to families and will be supportive and provide a good quality living space for families is something that is good for the community.”
Scott Arcand said, “There is going to be something there, and most likely at this point it will be something that matches this kind of density. I think we have learned a lot in Hugo over the years on how to manage water, and I think Adelaide Landing is a great example of that. We can’t make any decisions based on what kind of income level it is or isn’t. I am going to have a hard time going against this.”
Maria Mulvihill said although she has concerns about parking and water, “overall I do think it is important to have different housing options for families. Looking at the overall long-term picture of what we see for Hugo, it is important to have apartments around that families can live in. We are a higher-end community, but it is important to allow options for others to come into the community to.”
Ultimately the board voted 7-1 (Andrew Tjernlund opposed) to recommend approval of the site plan and CUP. The City Council will likely consider it at its April 15 meeting.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.