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Willmar City Council approves Westwind street work, 5-3

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted 5-3 Monday night to approve construction of streets and utilities for the controversial Westwind Estates Third Addition low-income housing project in southwest Willmar.

The council acted on a recommendation from the council's Public Works/Safety Committee to approve a $650,950 bid from Kuechle Underground of Kimball to do the work. The Kuechle bid was the lowest of eight bids opened by the city for the street and utility work. Completion date is Oct. 30.

The street work is being paid entirely by the housing project developer, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton.

Because the cost is being paid by the developer, only a simple majority of the council was needed to approve the work.

The partnership will be constructing rental twin-homes in an area that is zoned for twin-home development. The rental project is different from the partnership's original proposal to seek a conditional use permit to build twin-homes for sale.

That proposal ran into opposition from owners of nearby single-family homes, along with other Willmar residents, who said the twin-home project is not compatible with the existing single-family neighborhood development.

Council member Ron Christianson introduced the resolution because he served as committee chairman in the absence of Doug Reese during the July 29 committee meeting. But Christianson said he would vote against it.

Christianson, an opponent of the Westwind project, called it "my favorite subject.''

"I cannot do that in good conscience. So many red flags have been raised about this project that I don't understand how it got this far,'' he said.

"We have a grant agreement from (the Department of Employment and Economic Development) that states they will perform activities that are proposed in their application. Which application nobody seems to find or will give out...'' he said.

Christianson said he hoped other council members would also vote against.

Voting in favor were Denis Anderson, Steve Gardner, Rick Fagerlie (who had voted against the project in the past), Bruce DeBlieck and Doug Reese.

Voting against were Christianson, Swenson and Jim Dokken.