Resident concerns delay IGH senior housing project


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You wouldn’t typically think of senior citizens as the type of neighbors who cause people to pack up and move away, but that’s what some Inver Grove Heights residents say they may do if a new senior housing facility near Concord Avenue and Highway 52 is constructed as planned.

The issue, according to the residents who spoke at the June 24 city council meeting, isn’t the tenants, but rather the placement and design of the 66-unit building proposed by the Dakota County Community Development Agency at the corner of Cheney Trail and Cahill Avenue. They say placing the three-story structure on the southeast corner of lot near homes on Cheney Trail will bring hilltop residents eye-to-eye with their new neighbors and diminish property values in the area.

After a lengthy debate on the issue, the council approved an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for residential land use on the lot, but delayed its final decision on the project until the CDA has time to design alternate plans that would adjust the building’s placement. CDA officials say they’re eager to please the neighborhood, but concerned that a lengthy process of adjustments could cause them to miss out on this year’s construction season.

Fits the neighborhood?

The land in question is a vacant lot across Cahill Avenue from Walmart. The land is zoned for office use but has been vacant since 1992 and on the market for more than a decade. At one point the city approved a clinic for the site, but those plans fell through before development started.

The CDA purchased the land for $250,000 with plans to build a senior housing facility after the previous landowner went into bankruptcy. The CDA currently operates 26 similar independent living facilities countywide, including the Cahill Commons and Carmen Court facilities in Inver Grove Heights.

Joseph Sonday, a Cheney Trail resident, said while he has no qualms with a senior living facility on the lot behind his home, he’s concerned about the building’s height.

“I want to see senior living back there, but I don’t want to see three stories of residential,” Sonday told the council. “My wife and I, my kids, are going to have a lot of residential windows staring us down.”

Sonday said he’d already met with a real-estate agent to discuss the prospect of selling his home, but his preference would be for the CDA to redesign the building with two stories and a broader foundation to accommodate the units.

Christopher Riess, another Cheney Trail resident, shared Sonday’s opinion, theorizing the CDA could fit as many or more units in a redesigned two-story building.

“Let’s triple the size, and make it two stories,” Riess suggested. “All we’re asking to do is go back and use a little imagination and come up with a building that fits the site better and fits the neighborhood better.”

‘We’re going to be responsive’

Mark Ulfers, executive director of the CDA, said he believed it was important for the CDA to work with the city and the neighborhood and would do his best to please all sides.

“We’re not a private developer who’s going to come, do his thing and then leave,” Ulfers said. “We’re going to be responsive if there’s a complaint or concern or issue.”

However, Ulfers said the reason the CDA uses the three-story design is because it’s the most cost-efficient for the space allowed. To construct a two-story building with the same square footage would add around 20 percent to the construction costs, according to Ulfers. In the case of the proposed facility, which is projected to cost between $7 million and $8 million, a two-story revision would add around $1.5 million.

“That would put us in a position that it is no longer economical to develop,” Ulfers said.

Ulfers added that he feared significant redesigns would push the start of construction back to 2014, which he estimated would add 3 to 5 percent to the cost due to rising construction prices.

Aric Elsner, another Cheney Trail resident, remained unimpressed by the CDA’s concern for expedience.

“If they don’t get it built this year, I guess that’s not a big deal to me,” Elsner said. “I’ve lived here for 13 years, and I’d like to see the right building go in here.”

Council action

The council decided against imposing a two-story limit, but remained divided over another suggestion from residents that the building be centered on the lot rather than placed in the corner, providing homeowners some additional space between them and the new structure.

Council member Dennis Madden initially opposed the suggestion, saying the move would slow the process down while doing little to mitigate the residents’ frustration.

“I feel it will be in the same position at the next meeting,” Madden said. “I’d like to make a decision tonight.”

After discussing the feasibility with CDA officials present, however, Mayor George Tourville motioned to table final approval on the project until the council’s July 8 meeting, to allow the CDA’s architect time to revise the plans with the adjusted placement. If the revisions pass muster with the council and residents at that time, the council will grant the conditional use permit for the multiple family development use needed for the work to begin.

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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