WILLMAR — The Willmar Zoning Ordinance, which dictates what types of development are allowed in each area of town, has been amended to allow multi-family housing projects, such as apartment complexes, to be built in areas zoned for general business.

Prior to the amendment, multi-family dwellings were allowed in a general business district only when the units were a secondary use, such as buildings with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments in the upper floors.

The amendment, approved Monday by the Willmar City Council, opens the door for a planned, multiple-building apartment project to move forward in the Waterview Business Park, located in an area around stores such as Target, Walmart and PetSmart.

The amendment was approved unanimously following a public hearing during Monday's meeting of the council.

The proposed apartment complex in the Waterview Business Park, called Preserve on 24th, is being developed by Kuepers Inc. of Brainerd. The project includes the construction of three buildings, housing a total of 108 market-rate units.

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"A lot of developers look for places with some visibility," said City Planner Sarah Swedburg. The business park, just off First Street, could offer that.

"Something that has a bit of traffic, so that residents or future community members might see those developments and have them top of mind," she said.

The Willmar Planning Commission on March 17 recommended approval of the zoning ordinance amendment. The commission also approved the conditional use permit for the Preserve on 24th project.

At the April 5 council meeting, the City Council gave its approval for the conditional use permit on the condition that the zoning ordinance amendment was approved.

Any future multi-housing developments in a general business district would also need to obtain a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission.

While the Preserve on 24th project was one of the reasons why the Planning Commission decided to amend the zoning ordinance, changes in housing trends and the need for more housing in the city also caused the commission to take a look at the ordinance.

The number of homes for sale continues to drop, with only 1.2 months' worth of inventory available in the southwest central region, according to statistics from Minnesota Realtors, which defines that region as Kandiyohi, Meeker, Renville and McLeod counties.

"The Planning Commission came to the decision it was time to amend this ordinance, because of the changing and amending practices for commercial zones. To increase the ability for residents to live closer to work or amenities that might be available to them, as well as adapt to the market for multi-family housing," Swedburg said.