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Tie-breaker vote from the mayor lets HRA oversee $350K grant

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke broke a 3-3 City Council vote Tuesday night in favor of amending an agreement that lets the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority administer a $350,000 state Small Cities Development grant for a housing project.

Council members supporting the amended agreement were Denis Anderson, Rick Fagerlie and Bruce DeBlieck. Voting against were Ron Christianson, Cindy Swenson and Dokken. Doug Reese and Steve Gardner were absent.

Heitke broke the tie in favor of amending the agreement.

The grant will be used to develop Westwind Estates Th-ird Addition, a low-income, single-family and town house project proposed by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the council has historically asked the HRA to administer those grants. If the agreement had not been amended, the city offices would have been responsible for administering the grant, he said.

Christianson spoke against the amendment. He represents the Second Ward in southwest Willmar where the development will be built and opposes the project. The housing project was approved by the Planning Commission on Jan. 9 and the council failed in a 4-4 vote on Jan. 22 to override the commission's action.

Christianson said he believes the only reason the partnership is "pushing this (housing project) so hard'' is to receive the administrative fee from the grant to keep its office open and staff employed.

Christianson, along with a number of owners of neighboring single-family homes, say the project will reduce property values.

He said that three of eight to nine families in the neighborhood have decided to leave town at a time when attempts are being made to bring people into Willmar.

Christianson said other cities are tearing down congregate housing. "They've found it's not working. It becomes a center for crime, abuse.''

He said if families are placed in average to above-average neighborhoods similar to what's been done with group homes, "they have a better life.''