Yes, residents and business owners in Centerville and Lino Lakes have concerns about the biggest project to hit Centerville in the past 20 years.
But what has really drawn collective ire is the feeling that news about such an enormous project was being kept from them.
As discussed at the April 28 Centerville City Council meeting, R & R Leasing Inc. (Rehbein Commercial) requested to plat two parcels of land it owns into six lots and a new street. The plat involves 23.73 acres of vacant property on the north side of Main Street between 20th and 21st avenues. Developers have bought three of the six lots; the remaining three will remain vacant for the near future. A Kwik Trip is proposed for a 4.47-acre lot; the NorBella Senior Living facility is proposed for a 4.3-acre lot and the Belleville Apartments are proposed for a 5.3-acre lot.
Kwik Trip Inc. has proposed a gas station, convenience store and car wash for the middle lot on Main Street. Concerns named in the stopcenterville.com petition started by Lino Lake residents located just to the north in the Watermark Development include the risk of putting longstanding local business owners out of business, increased traffic, and noise and safety concerns due to the traffic increase.
Rachel Development has proposed a 40-unit senior assisted living facility, to be called NorBella Senior Living, on a 2.4-acre lot on 21st Avenue and the new street, which for working purposes is called “New Street A.” A concern stated in the petition noted that the city already has a senior facility, Atlas Villas Memory Care, slated for development off Main Street.
Apollo Development has proposed a 103-unit market rate, four-story luxury apartment building to be called Belleville Landing on a 5.3-acre lot on the northeast corner of the Rehbein property on 21st Avenue. Concerns outlined in the petition call attention to the risk of more road traffic that would diminish safety for children crossing the street, an unnecessarily large, towering structure and the blight of too many empty units.
“I want to talk about the non-transparency with this (project),” said Jeff Allman, owner of Lakes 1 Stop on 21st Avenue N. “There are a ton of city residents that have no idea what is even going on. The city started by sending out packets to a select group (property owners living within 350 feet of the proposed development).”
Allman said that the city held two Zoom meetings, the second of which had a substantially higher turnout than the first, because people knew about it. Only that second meeting was posted in the newspaper, and the second meeting also had a special login code that some people had trouble with, he said.
After the April 6 Planning and Zoning Commission Zoom public hearing was infiltrated by porn artists, another meeting was scheduled for April 26 that required a code for access to prevent hackers from disrupting it. Allman said that although the city promised to post information about the project on its website, he couldn't find it.
The Quad Community Press published one official notice of the April 6 public hearing about the proposed development on March 23.
“I believe the residents of Centerville and some of our neighbors in the Lino Lakes Watermark Development were unaware that the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting was the only meeting for input from the public ... as I was!” said Todd Steffen, owner of the Corner Express on Main Street. “This, along with the meeting ID and password changes from the one listed on the Centerville website, made many people assume that the meeting was closed to the public and they didn't know what to do.”
“Although committee meetings are public, with agendas and notices available, residents do not take notice if they do not know they need to,” said Lino Lakes resident Andria Mattlin. “The entire city and surrounding cities that this will impact should have been notified and given time to voice their opinions.”
“We are required to notify any resident within 350 feet of the proposed development, regardless of city boundaries,” City Administrator Mark Statz said. “We must take input from anyone, regardless of where they are from.”
Council Member Steve King suggested council table all action pertaining to the four Rehbein property items until more people had a chance to be heard. “How many people know about it?” he wondered. “We followed legalities for notification, but this is so much.”
The city had the option of tabling the items for discussion for another 60 days, or the actions would have been deemed accepted by default, said Statz. The first deadline was due to expire on May 5, and the extension will expire at the end of June.
The council unanimously tabled site plan reviews for all three developments; rezoning action for both NorBella and Belleville; a conditional use permit application for Norbella; and a Comprehensive Plan Amendment for Belleville Landing.
However, the council did conduct the first reading of Ordinance 113, Second Series Amendments to City Code Chapter 156 and Table 156.A-1, which allows the Kwik Trip to have a car wash. Otherwise, the car wash would not have been allowed. The city can put conditions on its use, but cannot deny the use, Statz said. A second reading is due in two weeks.
The council also unanimously approved, with eight conditions, the preliminary plat for Rehbein Commercial to subdivide its lot.
Mayor D Love said that citizens did have a chance to speak out, as shown by the robust crowd that attended the April 26 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — a meeting that lasted until 1 a.m. Tuesday, April 27.
Love also noted that the land at the center of the discussion is not owned by the city, but by a local businessman. The city did not pursue the development, he said. In fact, it would be illegal for the city to forbid a landowner to sell his or her own land, he said.
“The city and citizens are not separate. If we say we're doing something good for the city – for the population as a whole – we owe commercial enterprise the same swift response and service as someone purchasing a home,” he said.