A new, $3.8 million, 24-unit townhome complex is closer to reality in Northfield.
Councilors on July 2 approved vacating a drainage easement on the land south of Ford Street that the townhome complex would sit on.
Vacating the existing drainage easement passed on a 5-1 vote. Councilor David DeLong voted no. Mayor Rhonda Pownell was absent. Following that vote, councilors unanimously approved a drainage and utility easement agreement with property owners Vernon and Joan Koester on the nearly 2.5 acres of land.
Schrom Construction is requesting tax increment financing to acquire the property at the intersection of Maple Street S. and Ford Street E. to address a cash shortfall and address site improvements. Council approval of the plan could come after a July 23 public hearing. TIF funding is seen as giving cities the chance to capture and utilize increased local property tax revenue from new development within a defined timeframe. It is used to encourage certain development or re-development that would not necessarily occur without assistance.
The complex will be a mix of two- and three-bedroom units and include attached garages and parking.
Schrom Construction hopes to begin construction this year and wrap up in 2020.
Based in Eagle Lake, Schrom Construction has done nine projects in nine communities, totaling 309 units.
In expressing disapproval of the plan, DeLong said the city had promised the land would be a park in documents dating back to the early 2000s.
“All those maps going to the very first time it was presented to the Park and Rec and Planning Commission, that meeting, the conceptual development plan, it was identified as park,” he said. “In the environmental assessment worksheet, in the preliminary plat it was identified as park. In the joint annexation, it was presented to the township that it was going to be park.”
City Attorney Christopher Hood said the city never made a legal commitment to keep the site as a parkland, noting the land has been privately held for 15 years.
Maple Street is expected to be extended south as part of the project at a cost of nearly $200,000.
The potential project comes as the city faces a less than 1 percent vacancy rate, which can inflate rental prices due to high demand. It has a strategic plan for 40 new affordable/workforce housing units, and the project is seen as moving the closer to the goal.
DeLong questioned whether the Housing Redevelopment Authority needed to issue its support after initially supporting the development when 28 units were planned, but Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau said that was not needed, noting she has heard support for the project from several HRA members in the past several days.
Councilor Suzie Nakasian thanked staff for the work they have done in the process and said she supported vacating the easement.
“There is an obligation to dedicate parkland, and that has been met,” she said of the developers.
Councilors Jessica Peterson White, Nakasian and Brad Ness, who served as pro tempore mayor Tuesday night in Pownell’s absence, said the council had no legally permissible route to not vacate the easement.