Mendota Heights apartment complex gets final approval


Hannah Burlingame/Review • While the sign still stands, the site of the former Mendota Motel off Highway 13 in Mendota Heights is a blank slate for a new apartment development.

submitted graphic • The Mendota Heights City Council voted Nov. 21 to approve the final plat for two 69-unit market-rate apartment buildings to be built on Highway 13 just south of Acacia Boulevard, despite a lawsuit brought against the city by residents claiming the city should not have approved the development.

City is sued over project

 

The final plat for the Mendota Heights Apartments project was approved by the Mendota Heights City Council at its Nov. 21 meeting, but that doesn’t mean the city is in the clear with the project.

The city is being sued by residents because of it.

Michael Swenson of Michael Development plans to build two 69-unit market-rate apartment buildings on Highway 13 just south of Acacia Boulevard, at the site of the former Mendota Motel and Larson Garden Center.

Jim Thomson, an attorney who is representing the city, said in an interview the litigation is being brought by a group of residents who claim the city didn’t follow the correct process and should not have approved the project. Thomson said he was unable to give more specifics about the suit.

Tim Benetti, community development director, said at the Nov. 21 meeting the preliminary plat was approved Sept. 5, and the final plat was consistent with that plan. 

After discussion about whether the council should wait to vote on the matter because it was being sued, the final plat was approved on a 3-2 vote, with council members Ultan Duggan and Jay Miller voting against it.

Thomson said if the city loses the lawsuit, it doesn’t mean the development won’t happen. If the court were to rule that some processes weren’t followed, the city would retroactively correct the mistake.

“I’m confident the city did follow all the right processes,” he said, adding he could not speak for how Michael Development would proceed.

 

Duggan’s concerns

Before the vote, Duggan said the city rezoned the land for Michael Development and it was also giving it tax increment financing, and wondered what the city was really getting in return.

He said smaller developments could go into the site to better accommodate the city’s ordinances, instead of granting variances, which were given to the project.

He said his concern is if the project goes forward, other future developments will expect the same considerations.

Duggan said the community has raised concerns about the entrances to the site, and that nothing should be done until issues and concerns are addressed. Those in attendance applauded his comments.

Council member Joel Paper said the first meeting regarding the development was Feb. 9 and everything has been consistent all the way through.

Mayor Neil Garlock said the project is a good use of the property — the motel, with frequent police calls for service had become a “blight” — and that Michael Development has done adjustments and been open throughout the entire process.

Duggan said it’s damning the city is being sued by its own citizens over the project and made a motion to postpone any decision on the development. The motion was seconded by Miller, but did not pass.

Work to clear the project site has already begun. Construction is broken into two phases with the second beginning mid-summer to fall 2018.


 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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