Commission OKs permit for housing project opposed by neighbors
WILLMAR -- The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit Wednesday night for a proposed twin-home development in southwest Willmar that nearby single-family homeowners say is not compatible with their neighborhood.
The 90 or so seated and standing people who filled the Fire Station training room were told by Planning Commission Chairman Andrew Bjur at the end of a two-hour public hearing that the City Council will take final action on the conditional use permit for Westwind Estates Third Addition.
The council meets again on Jan. 22.
The development of 28 twin-homes and six single-family homes is being proposed by Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton on 22 acres of land located south of Richland Avenue Southwest and between 16th Street and 18th Street Southwest.
The partnership is described on the agency's Web site as a non-profit community development corporation serving 30 counties in rural Minnesota, with the purpose "to build strong and healthy places to live so that the communities of our region thrive.''
The conditional use permit is needed to let the partnership sell the twin-homes, explained Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services.
He said the conditional use permit and the public hearing would not have been required had the partnership chosen to develop and rent twin-homes instead of sell them, which would have been allowed.
The development will provide a home-owning opportunity to persons with low-to-moderate incomes, according to Partnership Executive Director Rick Goodemann. He read letters of support from officials in Worthington and Montevideo for projects developed by the partnership in those cities.
"We pride ourselves in developing quality products,'' he said.
Partnership program director Lisa Onken said the project is designed to provide decent workforce housing. She said cited a study that said the values of neighboring homes are not affected by the type of housing proposed by the partnership.
Homeowners opposed constructing twin-homes starting in mid-block next to an area already developed for single-family homes.
Scott Thaden, whose house on 22nd Avenue Southwest would sit next to the west side of the twin-home development, said the proposed twin-homes are not similar to existing single-family homes.
The development would violate one of six conditional permit standards that says a use "conform or is complimentary to neighborhood characteristics of the district in which it is located,'' he said.
Thaden also said twin-home development was not the normal progression of housing in the neighborhood and he said characteristics of the proposed development were not compatible with other uses in the vicinity.
He said the neighbors did not want to deny affordable housing to anyone. He said the issue was that the proposed use is not compatible with what is already there.
Gary Peterson, who lives on 15th Street Southwest, said he sold the land to the partnership with the understanding that the land would be used for single-family homes. He said the proposed development would dramatically affect the neighborhood and change that vision.
He proposed that low-income homeowners be spread out around the city instead of being concentrated in one area. He said clients, formerly served at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, are now served in groups homes located around the city.
Chad Christianson said he did not see the need for the project with 96 homes available for sale in Willmar.
Bjur said the issue for the commission was not the need for the housing, but the use of the land.
Bruce Peterson was asked by commission member Mike Morris if there is a precedent in Willmar for building twin-homes near single-family homes.
Peterson said there are density changes in mid-block in the Eighth Street, Ninth Street and 10th Street Southwest areas of town.
Morris thanked the people for attending and he told the audience that the proposal puts the commission is a difficult position of either approving a permit for a project that neighbors didn't like, or denying it and allowing the partnership to develop rental property, which did not require commission action.
In related business, the commission approved the preliminary plat for the housing project. The plat describes the location of lots, streets, a public park and storm water detention pond.