WILLMAR — Suite Liv'n, a rental developer and management company, currently has approximately 700 units in Willmar, and the company hopes to add at least another 72 with four new apartment buildings near Ridgewater College.

To make the project financially feasible for Suite Liv'n, it is requesting a 15-year tax-increment financing district for the project from the city, which, if approved, would provide the company nearly $1.5 million total in returned taxes. However, to receive that tax payback, Suite Liv'n will have to adhere to a property management plan. The agreement covers things such as snow removal and responsiveness to outstanding and recurrent issues such as garbage complaints.

"The developer must comply with all the conditions in that property maintenance agreement for all of their properties across Willmar or the payments will be withheld," said David Ramstad, Willmar planning and development director, at the July 6 Willmar City Council meeting. "That gives us considerable leverage."

The idea to include a property management plan in the TIF agreement came about after the city continued to have issues regarding property upkeep at Suite Liv'n facilities. Ramstad said Gabe Olson, Suite Liv'n owner, agreed to the plan and helped the city hammer it out.

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"To have an entity that is willing to come to the table, discuss the issues and come to an amicable solution, I think that speaks loudly," said Councilor Andrew Plowman. "Keep up the good work."

Moving forward, any project that wants to receive TIF from the city will have to agree to adhere to a similar property management plan for all the recipient's property, whether said properties are residential, commercial or industrial. Ramstad said he and his staff are looking at a number of ways to help with property compliance issues in the city, including updating the city's comprehensive plan and being more proactive with citations.

"We are trying to attack this from different directions," Ramstad said.

The City Council approved setting a public hearing for the TIF district for July 19, during the City Council meeting. Following the hearing, the council will consider whether or not to approve the TIF.

"I think this is a good deal for Willmar and a good deal for the developer," Ramstad said.

At its July 7 meeting, the Willmar Planning Commission approved a resolution stating it found the proposed TIF agreement with developer AEHN LLC conformed with the city's development and redevelopment plans for the whole city. The council will have the final say on whether the agreement goes forward.

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The TIF agreement discussion is just the latest step in the project's approval process. The Willmar Planning Commission approved the conditional-use permit for two of the four proposed buildings on 24th Street Northwest at its special meeting on June 30. These two buildings will be three stories with 24 units each. They are to be constructed in the vacant lots between two existing multi-family complexes.

The permit was approved unanimously by the commission, after hearing from several concerned residents of the surrounding neighborhood. The concerns brought up include items such as noise, trash, trespassing, mowing/snow removal and bright lights shining into the surrounding homes from the apartment buildings. A petition opposing the construction of the new buildings was signed by at least 60 neighborhood residents.

"Basically we have become surrounded by apartment buildings," and with those types of housing comes an increase in particular issues, said Heidi Burton. "We have people trespassing on our property. There is garbage, there is noise."

While the complaints and concerns were not enough to stop the approval of the permit, which the commission is obligated to approve as long as the project satisfies the criteria of the land use, Ramstad told the residents their comments would help the project be better and that conditions could be added to the permit.

Conditions that were added to the conditional-use permit, and agreed to by Olson at the meeting, include installing privacy fences between the Suite Liv'n buildings and neighboring single-family homes and adding shielding to lighting fixtures on the exterior of the buildings facing homes. Other concerns of the neighbors, such as snow removal and trash issues, have been addressed in the maintenance agreement.

"We have worked really hard to use this as an opportunity," Ramstad said.