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Housing project with 337 apartments gets approved

A request by Unique Development to make changes to its planned unit development near Woodland Elementary School and Rosewood Lane was approved Monday.

After tabling the request at its last meeting, the Alexandria City Council voted to amend the developer's PUD on a 3-2 vote. Bobbie Osterberg and Bob Kuhlman voted against it.

Osterberg said she listened to her neighbors and constituents in Ward 3 who opposed the plan. Kuhlman was concerned about pedestrian safety issues because an area in the development lacked a sidewalk.

Council member Todd Jensen told Kuhlman that engineers determined it would be less of a danger to have pedestrians walk on the side of the street then to provide a sidewalk down a steep hill that pedestrians may think is safe.

The project, as approved in 2016, called for three apartment buildings containing 36, 48 and 60 units, along with four four-unit townhomes, all clustered along the eastern half of the site.

The first 36-unit apartment complex is complete and occupied.

The changes eliminate the proposed townhomes and the 60-unit apartment building to create additional park and open space.

Including the 36 units that are already built, the development would include a total of 337 apartment units, more than twice the 160 units in the initial plan. The density, however, will be reduced under the requested amendment, going from 160 units on 13 acres to 337 units spread over 29.67 acres, which is well within the city's requirements, according to City Planner Mike Weber.

The company also wants to realign public streets to allow a daycare building.

The city's planning commission recommended the new plans with several conditions. One key requirement: The developer must provide a traffic impact study by Nov. 1.

Access to the site will be from County Road 46/McKay Avenue on the west, and from Rosewood Lane on the east.

The project includes extending 10th Avenue from the west to connect to Rosewood Lane at Melody Drive, and extending Brookdale Drive to connect between 10th Avenue and Rosewood Lane.

The plan calls for a pedestrian/bicycle crossing at County Road 46 on the west side of the road, providing access to Woodland Elementary School.

The council also approved a conditional use permit for Unique Development's project on a 4-1 vote with Osterberg opposed. The developer's rezoning district amendment was approved on a 3-2 vote with Osterberg and Kuhlman voting against it.

RCC expansion not approved

The city's request for the Legislature to provide a $4.4 million bond to help pay for an $8.8 million expansion of the Runestone Community Center is not included in the House bonding bill.

City Administrator Marty Schultz included the news under his items for the meeting. He noted that the Senate bonding bill has yet to be released.

The RCC expansion would add a third rink area on the southwest side of the facility that could be used for ice and dry floor events.

Schultz added that the Senate tax bill does not contain any significant priorities of the city, the League of Minnesota Cities or the Greater Coalition of Minnesota Cities. He said it mostly focuses on federal tax conformity.

Workforce housing

The council is asking experienced developers to partner with the city to develop a multi-family workforce housing project on land owned by the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority, north of County Road 82 and west of Birch Avenue.

The HRA acquired the land from the county after it went through the tax forfeiture process.

The council plans to apply for funds through the Minnesota Housing Workforce Development Program to help pay for the development, which would include single-family apartment units and garages.

The state doesn't have income requirements for the program, which allows developers more flexibility. Cities with populations under 30,000 are given priority in the program.

A local match is required for the project. The state housing program would provide $2 for every $1 of local match in the form of cash, land, tax increment financing or tax abatement.

The council directed city staff to release a request for qualifications for the program. Proposals must be submitted by June 29 and the council will consider them on July 23.

Energy savings realized

A $5.6 million Guaranteed Energy Savings Project developed by Apex Area Solutions is paying off.

The council decided to pursue the project in 2016 in an effort to make city buildings more energy efficient. It included $1.4 million in general improvements, such as replacing street lights and traffic lights with LED lighting, and sealing walls, doors, ceilings and windows, and about $4.2 million in refrigeration and capital upgrades mainly at the Runestone Community Center.

According to Apex, the $5.6 million cost will be recouped in about 14 years through energy savings.

If the projects fail to meet those projections, Apex agreed to make up the difference. The city agreed to pay Apex between $7,000 and $8,000 a year to oversee the energy projects and do the engineering work to track the savings.

Apex guaranteed the city would save $229,676 in energy and maintenance costs during the first year, 2017.

At Monday's meeting, City Administrator Marty Schultz reported that the actual measured savings was $230,867, which exceeded the guaranteed savings by $1,191.

Tobacco ordinance may change

The council gave preliminary approval to amend the city's tobacco ordinance, increasing the penalties for violating the ordinance and clarifying the process.

The amendment:

• Provides detailed language on the process of appealing the council's decision to deny, suspend, revoke or not renew a license.

• Allows the council to deny a license if an applicant has failed four compliance checks for selling tobacco to underage customers. If, for example, an applicant has a license for one location and has failed four compliance checks, that would be the basis for the council to deny a license application for the same applicant at a different address.

• Modifies the penalty section, allowing the city administrator to suspend a license for at least seven days upon a third or subsequent offense. The administrator may also recommend the council revoke or not renew the license.

No one spoke at a public hearing before the council unanimously approved the changes.

The city received two letters of concern from tobacco retailers. One letter questioned whether the city could include a store's failed compliance checks in other cities. The city attorney will clarify the language to say that only violations in Alexandria would count.

Another letter writer was concerned whether the city would look back over the course of 20 or 30 years to add up the failed compliance checks.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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