Westwind: A timeline

About five years ago: The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton asked a Willmar real estate broker to assemble land for an affordable, single-family housing project in Willmar. Jeff and Sue Danielson and Gary Peterson sold just short...

About five years ago: The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton asked a Willmar real estate broker to assemble land for an affordable, single-family housing project in Willmar. Jeff and Sue Danielson and Gary Peterson sold just short of 23 acres to the partnership. The site, platted as Westwind Estates, is generally bordered by Richland Avenue Southwest and 16th and 18th Streets Southwest.

The original Westwind concept was a neighborhood of single-family homes with narrower streets and smaller lots to reduce the cost to home buyers, and to offer affordable mortgage financing products. The concept has been used in other cities.

"We did wish to develop a more affordable, new construction, single-family product than existed at the time in Willmar ... '' said Rick Goodemann, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership executive director.

November 2003: The concept was discussed, including concessions for narrower streets and lots, by the City Council's Community Development Committee.

But the committee voted at the Nov. 13 meeting to deny the request for reduced development standards. The committee's decision was upheld by the council at the Nov. 17 meeting.


Looking back, Peterson said he was convinced to sell his land to the partnership based on pictures he was shown by the partnership of single-family homes with double-car garages.

"I don't think they were deceiving me when they showed me those pictures. I think they fully intended to go with that type of housing,'' Peterson said. "I think that is what they wanted to do, but it didn't work out that way.''

The partnership then began developing single-family homes, but construction and development costs prohibited the partnership from continuing with the plan.

"Had we been able to meet our price points and had we gotten a little bit more cooperation from the city where we weren't feeling like we were competing with the private sector, we certainly would have continued with our original plan, which was just to build single-family houses and not twin houses,'' Goodemann said.

May 2006: The Housing Partnership in cooperation with the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority tried to develop a higher-density workforce rental housing project on a vacant city-owned site in the Pleasant View Addition.

The project on Willmar's east side consisted of seven 4-unit buildings and two 6-unit buildings and would have been located between a single-family neighborhood and much denser rental property. Also, the project would have improved street connections.

"We thought it was a very good site for rental housing,'' said Goodemann.

The HRA and the Housing Partnership asked the city to donate the land, which would help increase funding possibilities for the project. But neighbors objected to the increased density and landlords questioned the need for more subsidized housing.


June 2006: One month later, the council voted to support the housing concept but not at that site. Council member Rick Fagerlie suggested Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership develop a project on the west side of town where it already owned land.

Goodemann says he remembers Fagerlie's suggestion, and Fagerlie recalls making that suggestion.

"That's when we flipped to Westwind and began looking at the potential of developing that for the lease-to-own, single-family on community land trust as a way to making the units more affordable, based on parameters set by the zoning requirements,'' said Goodemann.

A community land trust is a way to make housing more affordable. The trust takes the land cost and infrastructure cost out of the equation so people do not have to finance that cost. Homeowners pay only for the house and have full rights to use the land but do not own the land.

The Westwind Estates Third Addition controversy began in January of this year with approval of a conditional use permit.

Jan. 9: Planning Commission approves a conditional use permit for the Westwind Estates Third Addition. Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership needed the permit to subdivide and sell twin homes.

Jan. 22: Permit sent to the City Council for action. In a council attempt to overturn the Planning Commission decision failed on a 4-4 vote.

Early March: City Attorney Rich Ronning rules the 60-day appeal period has expired, but the council ordered the Board of Zoning Appeals to hold a hearing on the permit anyway.


March 17: Questions over religion and race surface at a council meeting when project opponent and council member Ron Christianson reads a portion of Westwind's state grant application. Among other things, the application states the project will target a financing vehicle to Muslim home buyers who do not use traditional financing products and to other minority and low-income home buyers.

March 19: Goodemann issues a statement saying that Christianson's comments "are particularly troubling when those comments appear to be an attempt to stir up racial and religious fears and prejudice against a substantial portion of the residents of Willmar.''

March 31: The Board of Zoning Appeals throws out the permit, ruling that the ability to sell twin homes would impair the value of neighboring properties. The contention on the council boils over at a special meeting when four of eight members walk out to prevent the council from voting on Westwind street improvements.

-- Compiled from interviews with Rick Goodemann, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership executive director, and landowner Gary Peterson as well as from Tribune archives

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