The Community Action Center of Northfield is eyeing the possibility of 30 to 35 mixed-purpose housing units on and near the site of what used to be the Manger Inn.
The CAC purchased the 2½-acre site, on the north side of Hwy. 3 south of the Sheldahl plant, in early March. The location has seven units on site, including one in the old hotel and six motel-style buildings.
The apartments are expected to consist of a blend of subsidized units and market-rate apartments and be single-, two- and three bedroom units. The CAC views the site as ideal because Sheldahl is within walking distance of the site.
The plan is supposed to deviate from large condominium complexes and only feature three- and four-unit buildings.
“Between just the general consensus from the city in naming affordable housing as one of its top five priorities and then just the experience for CAC that on a daily level we work with clients who have a job, things are going well, kids are in school, but they just cannot find housing in this community,” CAC Executive Director Scott Wopata said of the role the need for affordable housing played in the decision to plan for the build.
The property was purchased around the turn of the 21st century by a Northfield community group that had an affordable housing vision, Wopata said. He added the site’s condition worsened after it was purchased by The Human Capital Development Foundation in 2016.
“For us, our main concern was just the families that are out there were really kind of in an unfair scenario, where there wasn’t really a property manager at all,” Wopata said. “And we know those families and we wanted to support them, and just realized there was an opportunity to support them now.”
The CAC is eyeing a complete reconstruction of the property, but to achieve the organization’s goal, the dispute between Waterford Township and the city of Northfield will need to be settled because of the site’s location. Wopata said plans could be more in focus in the next six to 12 months. Resident feedback is being gathered as part of the process.
The township believes an annexation agreement from 1980 that had no expiration should continue, meaning the city would need to pay the township annually for land it annexed at the time of the agreement. The city’s attorney said the agreement was null and void, because it didn’t have an expiration date. A judge has sided with Northfield, but Waterford has appealed the decision. A final ruling should come by the end of August.
Depending on the ruling, the 30- to 35-unit plan is seen as possible if property to the north that is currently for sale can be used for the development. If not, there are only 24 units available in the current boundary.
Wopata said realistically, the CAC is a nonprofit organization that does not specialize in building housing units, so the project is seen as potentially taking two to three years to ensure it is done properly.
“The buildings aren’t in a position in the long haul to be invested in,” Wopata said. “We’ve made some initial investments with just some basic things, finished some projects that hadn’t been done for a long time, took care of just some carpeting and other things just to make the places just more dignified for the people who are out there.”
In the meantime, Wopata said the CAC is making sure residents of the current site feel welcome. There is a small get-together for residents Saturday.
The site cost approximately $275,000 for the CAC to acquire. The organization used leftover funds from last year’s 50th anniversary celebration that was earmarked for housing and found philanthropic partners for other funding.
The CAC’s next steps are expected to be figuring out the site’s land use and waiting for the case between Waterford and Northfield to be resolved.
Wopata said the CAC could move case management, education classes and have a mini food shelf to the location.
“It was a really good move for the sake of the community and for the folks who are living out there,” he said.