As our communities change, grow and develop, some of our towns are maxed out, land-locked, and have limited opportunities for new development. Others such as Lino Lakes, Hugo, Centerville and the surrounding areas have an abundance of open space for development and are building out neighborhoods, industrial parks and retail areas.
I attended the Vadnais Heights City Council meeting last week, where a presentation was made to change the land use of a 13-acre parcel at McMenemy Road and Highway 96 from commercial to mixed use. It is a required step before rezoning. The buyer of the land would like to build a combination of townhomes and apartments. The council chamber was packed with residents opposed to the change in zoning, citing concerns about safety and the increased noise and traffic the townhomes and apartments might bring to the neighborhood.
As I drove home, I began to think about how I would react if this project was being proposed in my neighborhood. While I do not live in Vadnais Heights, my family is in a neighboring community and I have a vested interest in the socioeconomic impact of communities in the region where I live and operate a business. We care about the future of the northeast metro communities. Our reporters have sat in countless meetings over the years and have seen some great, mediocre and really bad decisions made.
I actually lost a little sleep over it. Why are the neighbors so against this change in the zoning and allowing the developer to build? I understand the pain of additional traffic, and I know that area already has a traffic problem. However, consider other potential issues with that land being zoned commercial. If a single or multiple manufacturer built on this land, like an injection plastic molding company, or a metal plating company that runs three shifts, it would cause significant traffic 24 hours a day, along with the sights, sounds and smells of a factory – with possible risks such as emiting hazardous waste. Or, this commercial property could be the next site for another hotel in Vadnais Heights. I’m not opposed to businesses having a right to build where they can buy land, but it would seem industrial facilities or a hotel would have significantly more late night and early morning traffic. The perception of local residents about the drawbacks of this proposal may be far worse than the reality.
Additionally, a little background on the developer, At Home Apartments, will show it has had success building and owning high-end, high-density housing in other communities such as Minnetonka, Mendota Heights — and closer to home — The Boatworks Commons located in White Bear Lake off of Highway 61. A few years ago, that was highly controversial. While I’m not sure they got everything right with the design of the building (especially small balconies facing the lake, or none at all), overall it has been a huge improvement to what was a blighted property on the lake. The people who live there have great things to say about it. The nearby businesses appreciate it, and I believe it has helped improve that entire stretch along the lake. I imagine many people who were initially opposed to that apartment building now think it was a pretty good idea. Some even reside there, or might like to.
The bottom line is, this land is up for sale and the land owner has a right to sell it. I’m shocking myself by saying this, but I believe At Home Apartments is an outstanding fit. As it is currently zoned, there is potential for a business, or multiple businesses, to come in. It’s a flip of a coin whether commercial development will drag down property values of the neighborhood. A residential housing complex is perhaps more likely to have a positive socioeconomic impact, as well as to enhance the look, feel, and charm of the community of Vadnais Heights.
It was impressive to see the turnout of residents at the City Council meeting, and they have valid concerns. We all have a tendency to claim open land as our own. Development is difficult and it’s great to see the engagement of citizens and careful process of our city leaders to make the right decision for all. God bless our leaders, communities and the people involved.
Carter Johnson is publisher of Press Publications.