Washinton's new look revealedWhat will happen to the old Washington Elementary School building and grounds now that students will be attending a new school? It will be home to a new 28-unit, senior housing cooperative – the first in the city.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
What will happen to the old Washington Elementary School building and grounds now that students will be attending a new school?
It will be home to a new 28-unit, senior housing cooperative – the first in the city.
Also, 19 “pocket townhomes” will be built on the surrounding property and Kenwood Street will be realigned.
The plans were revealed at Monday night’s Alexandria City Council meeting.
The council approved requests from “Washington Square Developers” for a preliminary plat, a conditional use permit, rezoning (required for a planned unit development) and a comprehensive plan amendment.
The 4.46-acre site is located between Jefferson and Kenwood Street and is bounded by 5th and 6th Avenue. Single-family residential uses, including the Lin-Lake Townhomes, surround the property and the development calls for additional housing.
At the city’s planning meeting, a representative for the developers, Pat Ellingson, said they have a purchase agreement in place for the Washington school property.
They also plan to reopen Kenwood Street, which is blocked by the school property between 5th and 6th Avenue, so it runs through the property. They want to realign the street and curve it so that it lines up at the intersection. The developer has agreed to pay for the cost, according to City Planner Mike Weber.
Seven of the 28 cooperative housing units have been spoken for and advertising hasn’t even started yet, according to the developers. They said the project offers a unique lifestyle for seniors – an alternative to apartments or townhomes.
School and city leaders, as well as neighbors, said they like the idea of preserving the Washington building and creating more homes for single families.
“This really is an exciting project,” said council member Sara Carlson, noting that it’s good for the school district to sell an old building, good for the city to have it redeveloped for housing and good to realign a city street.
“It’s a win, win, win, win,” added Weber, adding that the project will also provide housing for those 55 and older. “It’s an exciting project on a variety of levels.”
The timetable calls for everything to be completed in four to five years. Washington school will be remodeled right away. Kenwood Street will be rebuilt before the end of 2011 and will become a four-way stop instead of the three-way stop it is now.
City ordinances would allow for 22 detached townhomes but the developers are only seeking 19, which would be located east of Kenwood Street. Each unit would be built on a single level, contain abut 1,600 square feet and include a double garage.
The townhomes, which would be single-family units similar to patio homes, would be sold to those 55 and older for between $150,000 and $200,000, according to the developers.
Drainage is a concern for the area around the school since it has experienced flooding in the past. Although the project itself is not expected to add to the water flow, reopening Kenwood Street might, Weber said. The city may build a drainage pond to handle the extra water.
In other action, the council:
•Amended its 2009 budget in response to Governor Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment of local government aid (LGA). The cuts and adjustments total about $315,000.
As the council already decided earlier this year, the revised budget doesn’t include the salaries and benefits for the two new police officers the city intended to hire – a savings of $120,000.
Expenses in 14 other city departments were trimmed 2.5 percent for a total of $195,069.
This includes the following reductions: police – $56,331, general government – $46,211, street – $34,543, parks – $16,099, Runestone Community Center – $14,187, fire protection – $10,955, building department – $5,478, airport – $3,424, recreation – $2,743, animal control – $1,595, storm sewer – $1,506, engineering – $1,004, sanitation and waste – $715, and emergency management – $179.
•Heard a report about the city’s incentive programs to encourage affordable housing and create new jobs.
In order to receive tax increment financing (TIF) from the city, a housing development must meet one of two conditions – have 20 percent or more of its units occupied by individuals whose income is 50 percent or less of the area’s median gross income ($19,400 annually for one person) or have 40 percent of its units occupied by those with income 60 percent or less of that income level.
Two TIF projects qualify under the 40/60 rule: Sunrise Apartments (17 of 18 units meeting the requirement) and Lincoln Square Apartments (23 of 24 units).
Three TIF projects qualify under the 20/50 rule: Torborg Builders (six of 18 units), Martex (18 of 30 units) and Bridgewater (17 of 80 units).
In 2010, reports will be required for new projects that include Peaceful Bliss Assisted Living, The Legacy of Alexandria, Knute Nelson Senior Living Campus and Lakewood Terrace.
For owner-occupied residential developments, 95 percent of the units must be initially purchased and occupied by those with family incomes less than or equal to income requirements for federal mortgage bond projects.
The Preserve development has not met the requirement but is continuing to slowly develop homes under the TIF contract, Murray said. Right now it has 21 lots with 16 homes constructed but only four meet the income guidelines.
Last year, 11 parcels in The Preserve were decertified for not meeting the low-income guidelines. This year, one more parcel will be decertified, Murray said.
Minutes later, the council followed through on Murray’s comments, agreeing to remove one of the parcels from The Preserve TIF district.
The city’s other owner-occupied TIF housing development, The Trails, has 77 lots, 50 homes constructed and 43 – 86 percent – meet the income guidelines. Last year, The Trails added four new homes and all were within the requirements.
Two businesses are receiving TIF through the city’s business subsidy program – Broadway Ballroom and The Hampton Inn. They received TIF with the requirement that they would create a specific number of jobs.
Broadway Ballroom complied, adding 10 new jobs with an average hourly wage of $11.51 per hour.
Hampton Inn has fallen short, creating six jobs – two less than required. The average wage of those jobs is $14.25 per hour.
Seven of the eight Job Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) in Alexandria are providing or exceeding the required number of jobs and wage criteria.
They include Aagard Group (35 jobs created compared to 10 required with an average hourly pay of $21.23), Apol’s Harley Davidson (16 jobs, 15 required, at $15.24), Donnelly Custom Manufacturing (21 jobs, eight required, at $13.44), Pan-O-Gold Baking (five jobs, five required, at $28.80), SunOpta Aseptic (77 jobs, 12 required, at $13.08), TWF Industries (seven jobs, five required, at $11.61) and Heritage Transport (five jobs, five required, at $14.46). 3M, which just received subsidy approval in late February is making progress toward its requirement of providing 50 jobs, Murray said. So far, it has added 26 jobs with an average hourly wage of $26.44.
Does Alexandria have a lot of projects supported by TIF compared to other areas?
No, according to Murray’s research. He said that the percentage of Alexandria tax capacity tied to JOBZ and TIF amounts to 5.14 percent – 6th lowest out of 11 other similar-sized cities in the state and much less than the two highest rates, Marshall (14.31 percent) and Brainerd (8.7 percent).
•Agreed to allow the local Rural AIDS Action Network (RAAN) to hold its sixth annual West Central AIDS Walk in Alexandria on September 19, starting at 10 a.m.
Participants will walk along the trail from City Park to Big Ole Park and back.
Signs will be posted along the way with educational information about HIV and AIDS.
A brief program will take place at the band shell in City Park before and after the walk. The event is expected to be over by noon.
•Agreed to refund the Mexican restaurant, Bonito Mazatlan at 401 North Nokomis, for only partially using its liquor license.
Restaurant owner Fausto Lopez paid $3,000 for a liquor license that he received in early May that was supposed to last for the rest of the year. However, according to a letter he wrote to the city, he ended up closing the restaurant on June 4 due to “unforeseen problems.”
Because the city didn’t receive the letter requesting the refund until mid-July, the council decided to charge the owner for three months of liquor license use, or $1,125, and refund him $1,875.
•Listened to a request from Harold Koep, owner of Alexandria Golf Cars on Hawthorne Street. He wants the city to expand and clarify its current ordinance that allows for special use vehicles, such as golf carts.
At previous meetings, the council considered changing the ordinance to include more stringent licensing, such as requiring owners to fill out a form and pay a $25 fee. It ended up referring the matter back to its legislative committee.
At Monday’s meeting, Koep’s attorney, Tom Reif, told the council that it should allow golf carts on more city streets. He listed several advantages – they’re good for the environment because they get good gas mileage; they’re quiet; and they would help slow down traffic.
Golf carts also offer a convenient way for the elderly and disabled to get around town, Reif added.
“I don’t see a lot of negatives with this [allowing golf carts on more city streets],” Reif said.
Reif said there wasn’t anything wrong with requiring safety measures on the carts, such as stoplights, a slow-moving vehicle sign and turn signals. Reif gave the council a copy of a letter from the Morris police chief stating that Morris has had no significant problems with golf carts in the year or so it has been licensing them. Morris was also not flooded with requests for the carts. It processed 17 or 18 applications.
The council voted to suspend issuing permits for special use vehicles and put the topic on the agenda for its work session on August 3.
For more council news see Friday’s paper.