WILLMAR — If one is looking for a home to buy or an apartment to rent around Willmar, they might have some difficulty. Housing availability continues to be an issue in and around the Willmar area.

According to Minnesota Realtors, there were only 97 homes for sale in February in the southwest central region, which includes Kandiyohi, Renville, Meeker and McLeod counties, only 1.1 months of supply and a 60 percent drop from the same period one year ago.

"It has gotten really tight, for people to look at options," said Aaron Backman, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. Backman spoke about the housing situation around the county during the March 11 meeting of the EDC Joint Operations Board.

Apartment units across different budget levels remain popular in Willmar as well. One of the most recent developments, Herzog Apartments at 1001 30th Street Northwest/ County Road 5, has completed and rented out its entire first building and is in the process of constructing the second of four buildings.

"It is not even completed yet and it is fully booked, all 72 units are all leased out," Backman said.

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This need and demand for housing continues to lead to opportunities for developers.

"It has been interesting to see the level of interest by a number of housing developers in the Willmar area," Backman said.

There are potential multi-family housing developments being discussed in a variety of areas across Willmar including downtown and on U.S. Highway 12, Backman said.

"I don't think developers would be paying attention to us without the potential," Backman said.

One development already moving forward is Preserve on 24th, a three-building market-rate apartment complex in the Waterview Business Park, located directly east of PetSmart and across the street from Taco Bell at the intersection of 24th Avenue and Fifth Street Southeast. When completed, the complex would bring 108 market-rate apartments to Willmar.

The Willmar Planning Commission, at its March 17 meeting, approved the conditional use permit for Preserve on 24th, after approving a text amendment allowing such developments to be constructed in an area zoned for general business.

"We are excited about this lot, we are excited about this location," said Chris Raimann, representing Kuepers Inc. of Brainerd, the developer of the project.

Raimann said as the company has developed 10 apartment complexes over the past decade, they found that people are looking for different housing choices, ones that offer proximity to commercial and employment opportunities.

"People are looking for these high-density, compact developments that have amenities and are close to services in the community," Raimann said.

A new three-building, multi-family development called Preserve on 24th is set to be located in the Waterview Business Park, near the Walmart, Cub Foods and PetSmart in Willmar.

Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune
A new three-building, multi-family development called Preserve on 24th is set to be located in the Waterview Business Park, near the Walmart, Cub Foods and PetSmart in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Both the land use text amendment and the conditional use permit for the development will need to be given final approval by the Willmar City Council.

"It is timely, it is needed and frankly it is in a location that would be well served by having this," said Jonathan Marchand, Planning Commission chairperson.

The idea of having an apartment complex in the middle of Willmar's main commercial district is a new one for not only the Planning Commission, but the original developers of the Waterview Business Park.

Jason Ver Steeg, who represented the land's owner, Duininck Inc., said the initial vision was for the business park to be home to a variety of commercial businesses. And while that has panned out in some cases, as it does include Walmart and PetSmart among other businesses, times have also changed. The apartment complex will continue development in the area.

"We look at is as something that will enhance our development and help it grow," Ver Steeg said.

Willmar City Planner Sarah Swedburg said allowing developments such as Preserve on 24th fits with the city's comprehensive plan.

"It promotes the orderly growth of residential development," Swedburg said. "This is really promoting the use of land that is vacant and available in the city."

The area outlined in blue is the future site of Preserve on 24th, a new multi-family housing complex in Willmar.  Northeast of the site is Walmart, PetSmart directly to the west and Target to the southwest. Kandiyohi County GIS
The area outlined in blue is the future site of Preserve on 24th, a new multi-family housing complex in Willmar. Northeast of the site is Walmart, PetSmart directly to the west and Target to the southwest. Kandiyohi County GIS

Housing trends continue to show some potential residents want to be closer to shops, restaurants, medical facilities and the like. The data also continue to show a need for more housing at all income levels in Willmar. Projects such as Preserve on 24th and the land use text amendment will be opening the door to more opportunities.

"It is exciting to see this come around," Marchand said. "It is filling a need in our community that is long overdue."