Council denies downtown housing project

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The Spring Valley City Council on Oct. 8 denied a request of support for a proposed housing project in downtown Spring Valley.

Jeff Allman, owner of the Commercial House, once again approached the council asking for its support of his proposed building project to fill the space left after the collapse of the former Tamarack Cafe. He proposed a three-story apartment building at fair market prices, similar in style to the Commercial House with 12 to 16 units and an elevator to all three floors. The main floor would also support up to 1,000 square feet of commercial space on the Broadway Avenue side.

In order to make such a project work, Allman stated he would need funding through the Minnesota Workforce Housing matching grant. There are up to $1.9 million in grant or deferred loan funds available through this program, but the deadline is Oct. 11 so Allman has had to try to rush through the city's planning process.

“We do believe there is an acute need for workforce housing in town,” Allman said.

The Spring Valley Economic Development Authority (EDA) met on Oct. 3 for a special meeting regarding the proposal. The board voted to recommend the council support $280,000 in tax increment financing (TIF) funds, a conditional use permit for main floor apartments, as well as write and submit the grant application.

“The problem would be with the TIF, because you can't assign it right now. You would have to go through the whole legal process with a public hearing and setting that up,” city administrator Deb Zimmer shared. “The conditional use permit, at this time, because it's not allowed to have apartments on the first floor, it would have to be a change of our code, then it could be approved under a conditional use. So there is a process yet to do for the zoning, also.”

Isn't that putting the cart before the horse then?” council member Todd Jones asked.

“Without the government subsidy and without apartments instead of commercial on the first floor facing the existing courtyard I don't think there is a project that works there and I would withdraw. I think I need these things to make it work,” Allman told the council.

Jones voiced his concern with the parking needed to accommodate all the potential residents.

Previously, Allman stated he would need 23 parking spots and he planned to continue to use the gravel parking behind the Commercial House.

Per the development agreement for the Commercial House the city must provide off street parking for those residents, according to Allman, and he would like the same to happen with the proposed project.

Unfortunately, that space is also used by the Fire Department for training and may be used by the department for an addition to the station in the future.

Fellow council members agreed the parking would be a big issue for the future of the project.

“To me it seems like it becomes a problem when we do this and you need 23 lots and it turns out there are only 15 and we don't have a good spot to put the others. Unless the city purchases a lot we don't have a good spot to do that,” council member Jessy Betts said.

Allman would also have an uphill battle with Planning and Zoning as it has not supported changing the city's codes regarding first floor apartments previously.

“We have procedures we have to follow, also, and going through Planning and Zoning is one of them,” council member Mike Hadland said of the rushed process.

Zimmer noted that even if the council approved submitting the application, the proposal would come before them several more times for the TIF, development agreement and a Planning and Zoning recommendation.

Though the councilors agree the city could benefit from more workforce housing, the council voted unanimously to deny the request citing the numerous issues and unresolved questions.

“If it would have gone the other way where we would have had everything done before you got here then things would have worked out a lot easier instead of putting the cart before the horse,” council member Tony Archer commented. “Right now it just puts us in a predicament; you have a time constraint and it just came to us. It is hard for us to make a decision properly, a good decision about it. And if there is money that might not be there are you going to be able to go through with it? To me it seems like we are rushing it. It's unfortunate, housing is great and its needed.”

Other business

• The council approved applying special assessments totaling $4,217 to Marian Rowe's property 312 West Courtland Avenue for fire protection service fees.

• The quarterly ambulance write-offs for $19,999.74 were approved.

• Elcor Construction's pay request for $488,004.78 was approved. According to Zimmer, Elcor has been bringing in extra crews in order to try to make the city's deadline for the street project, but the rain has hindered the project.

• The next council meeting will be held on Monday Oct. 22, at 6 p.m.