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Westwind proposal draws further criticism

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WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to reject a $350,000 state grant for the controversial workforce and low-income Westwind Estates Third Addition housing project in southwest Willmar.

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The motion was offered by project opponent Ron Christianson toward the end of the three-hour meeting, when the council had reached the miscellaneous portion of the agenda and was hearing adjournment.

A motion was attempted to adjourn, but Christianson said he had an item to discuss under miscellaneous.

Christianson requested a roll-call vote on adjournment and the motion failed. Mayor Les Heitke then asked the council what it wanted to do.

Council member Doug Reese asked that Christianson be allowed to bring up his miscellaneous item.

Christianson asked what the grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development would be used for since the Planning Commission's approval of the project's conditional use permit was overruled by the Board of Zoning Appeals last week.

Heitke said the money is for Westwind. Heitke referred to a letter written by Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, congratulating the city for receiving the grant.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said it was the same grant that was discussed in January when the developer, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, asked the council last summer for a resolution of support for the grant, and the council voted not to pass that resolution.

Christianson said the partnership should have come to the council first for a resolution of the support before applying for the grant.

Christianson, Jim Dokken Cindy Swenson and Rick Fagerlie voted in favor of rejecting the grant and Steve Gardner, Denis Anderson and Reese voting against it.

Council member Bruce DeBlieck, who supports the project, was absent.

Schmit said the council will be asked by DEED, probably in April or May, to enter into an agreement for the money.

Anderson said it wasn't right for the council to consider the motion when a member was absent. He said the debate should be held with the full council present.

Christianson said the city charter says the council needs quorum to conduct business.

The Board of Zoning Appeals on March 31 overruled the decision by the Planning Commission to approve a conditional use permit for the controversial Westwind Estates Third Addition in southwest Willmar.

Nearby landowner Gary Peterson appealed the Planning Commission's approval of a conditional use permit for the Westwind Estates Third Addition, a residential development proposed by Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton.

The partnership is proposing to build low-income rental units, lease-to-own twin homes and single-family homes. The development is proposed in an area where the zoning allows either owner-occupied twin homes or rental twin homes.

The partnership applied for the permit to allow the twin homes to be sold. However, the zoning allows the partnership to construct rental units if the permit is denied, according to city officials.

The Zoning Appeals Board overruled the Planning Commission and upheld Peterson's appeal, saying the commission did not receive testimony from real estate agents about what they said would be negative effects of the lower-valued twin homes on the nearby higher-valued existing single-family homes.

The partnership's attorney, Jack Cann, said Peterson's appeal had no basis because Peterson was appealing the project and not the permit, and Cann said the 60-day appeal period had

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