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Planning Commission continues hearing on housing plan that has stirred ire of residents

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WILLMAR -- Homeowners from a southwest Willmar neighborhood will have to wait until January to voice their concerns about a housing development being proposed near them.

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About 50 homeowners showed up for a public hearing that had been scheduled Wednesday night by the Planning Commission to consider a conditional use permit and planned unit development proposed by Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton.

The partnership is proposing to build 14 twin-homes and 6 single-family homes in the proposed Westwind Estates Third Addition, located south of Richland Avenue Southwest and west of 16th Street Southwest.

A hearing was also slated on a preliminary plat of the development that would allow the partnership to subdivide the property.

But no testimony was taken from the neighbors and the hearing was continued until Jan. 9 because two partnership representatives were unable to attend the hearing and formally make a presentation to the commission.

Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, said the city was notified earlier in the week that the representatives could not attend the hearing. He said City Attorney Richard Ronning advised the commission to open the hearing and approve a motion for a continuance, which the commission did.

The meeting site was moved from the City Office Building to the Fire Hall to accommodate the crowd. Official notices of the hearing were mailed to property owners within a certain distance of the proposed development.

Commission Chair Audrey Nelsen apologized to the group. Nelsen and commission member Mike Morris invited everyone to return on Jan. 9. One man asked if the hearing could be delayed because some homeowners go south for the winter. Nelsen said the hearing could not be delayed.

An audience member asked if notice of the continuance could be mailed, and Peterson said the city would comply with the request, although he said city ordinance only requires one mailing.

This will be the second time that the Southwest Housing Partnership has proposed a housing development within its 22 acres of land. The first proposal of 51 units, which included low-income housing, was denied by the City Council on July 16.

The second proposal consists of 14 twin-homes (28 units) and 6 single-family homes, according to the preliminary plat submitted by the partnership. No information was presented or discussed Wednesday night about income eligibility or financing proposals.

But neighboring homeowners believe the latest proposal also involves low-income housing.

Gary Peterson, who lives east of the proposed development, told the Tribune afterward that he talked to about 40 homeowners who do not support the proposal because it would concentrate low-income people in one area.

"They need our help. But to concentrate them in one area is not the solution. Those people become stigmatized,'' he said.

"A far better solution is spread these developments out over the entire city. Let them become part of us. Don't segregate them into an area that becomes stigmatized,'' he said. "Let's integrate them among us. That's the way to do it.''

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