If Monday’s St. Peter City Council work session is any indication, housing development will continue to be on the forefront of key issues in 2016.
City officials had previously endorsed plans to move ahead on the community’s third major housing subdivision, targeting both mixed use and mixed income homes. This local effort to construct more affordable, “workforce housing” in St. Peter has driven two past projects – Nicollet Meadows and Washington Terrace.
But as St. Peter City Administrator Todd Prafke has indicated at past council meetings and workshops, penciling out this one won’t be as simple as the previous housing development projects. For as family incomes have slowed, housing construction costs and infrastructure expenditures have not.
And what might be affordable in one person’s concept of homeownership is not in another’s.
Council members and city officials Monday debated much of those issues, questioning if this third housing subdivision planned for a 57-acre tract of land west of Nicollet Avenue (County Road 20) and north of Traverse Road in northwest St. Peter is targeting the right home prices.
Past discussions have first targeted homes in the $170,000 price range, even though anticipated development costs are estimated near $190,000. That gap would have to be closed by the city teaming up with state and federal housing programs, which provide incentives for first-time and low- to moderate-income families.
In addition, city officials and council members have expressed hopes of teaming up with private developers to also build some houses in the $240,000 range, citing a lack of such homeownership options in the community and surrounding region. But even as recently as Monday, some disagreements surfaced on that level of housing and target price.
While past work sessions seemed to hold tight to a $240,000 price tag, Prafke and Community Development Director Russ Wille indicated a need for some flexibility if the city is to successfully team up with any “private partner” for additional construction adjacent to the workforce subdivision plan. City administration’s proposal asks for additional homes with “values of at least $240,000.”
Wille presented a draft which would seek requests for proposals (RFPs) “…in undertaking the construction of a third residential subdivision developed and designed utilizing the principles of the Building Better Neighborhoods program created by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund…”
“It is anticipated that the completed development will replicate the style, density and appearance of both the Nicollet Meadows and Washington Terrance developments successfully developed by the city of Saint Peter,” according to Wille’s proposal.
Much of this third project’s flexibility rests on that past partnership with the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, which as assisted the city in both the Nicollet Meadows and Washington Terrace subdivisions, as well as the Park Row Crossing apartment complex. The cooperation also includes close ties with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and Greater Minnesota Housing Fund.
The city’s infrastructure costs for a third housing subdivision also include expansion of St. Peter’s stormwater system, as well as the construction of Clark Street.
The RFPs, if formally approved by the St. Peter City Council at its Jan. 11 regular meeting, would be due by March 29.
Plenty more on city’s 2016 agenda
St. Peter city officials have also taken the lead in developing a regional transit system, highly recommended by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Prafke has led several meetings with neighboring county and city government officials in hopes of organizing such a regional transit system.
At Monday’s work session, Prafke presented a memorandum to council members asking for input on a new transit position to assist with the anticipated regional plan.
“As you know, Saint Peter has been the lead organizing entity for this effort,” wrote Prafke. “As part of that effort the MnDOT Transit Division has allocated us, as a part of our 2016 grant, additional funds to hire a person to do much of the work on this development of this project with the potential partners.”
Prafke added his goal would be to get council approval for this transit job description and advertise the new position in late January, with hopes of filling the position by mid-March.
Will Hallett’s Pond trail development happen?
At the city council’s Nov. 30 work session, a long-considered potential plan for upgrades to the area surrounding Hallett’s Pond also surfaced. In it, and “early spring 2016” timetable for securing cost estimates for a trail development around the historic pond may finally become a reality.
Trudi Olmanson, who leads the Lake Hallett Association, has been pushing for both a cleanup and reduction of stormwater heading into the pond/lake. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources simply labels it “Lake 52000100.” The state’s official designation for Hallett is a “type 5 public waters wetland.”
But these disagreements over Hallett and what to do with the often revered community asset are not new. Last year, St. Peter Public Works Director Pete Moulton simply called it a stormwater basin, not a true lake. But as far back as 1992, former Public Works Director Lew Giesking mentioned the possibility of turning the Hallett Pond area into a city park. And when the city paid $410,000 in 1998 for the rights to Hallett and a 30-foot buffer around much of it, Giesking reiterated those hopes.
Transportation projects, needs stay
on county’s radar
Nicollet County commissioners Tuesday committed $675,000 to local road and bridge projects, an ongoing sign of concerns over the inability of Minnesota legislators to come to a comprehensive funding package last session.
While transportation projects both locally and regionally include a complicated mix of funding sources, District 4 Commissioner Jack Kolars has been vocal about the need to provide more maintenance of the Nicollet County road and bridge network. And Kolars, who served as Nicollet County chairman in 2015 and was active in the Association of Minnesota Counties, has also been critical of the state’s failure to come up with a long-term funding mechanism for transportation projects.
The Tuesday board decision formally dedicated the $675,000 figure, which simply recognized the county’s past funding commitment to road and bridge projects dating back to 2008. At that time, commissioners approved a $200,000 transportation levy, then followed up with $100,000 in 2009, and then added $75,000 in each year from 2010 through 2014.
However, the transportation funding commitments were simply “floating in the limbo state,” according to Kolars. Nicollet County Administrator Ryan Krosch confirmed those funds were collected but not formally dedicated.
“This will commit those funds,” Krosch said Tuesday, adding that an estimated $102,750 of new wheelage tax monies in 2016 are also likely heading into the county’s dedicated road and bridge projects.
New Nicollet County Chairman James Stenson noted Tuesday that those dedicated transportation funds will likely be needed due to the county’s share of the anticipated roundabout construction on County Road 5 (Broadway Avenue) adjacent to the new St. Peter High School project in west St. Peter.
Stenson, the District 2 commissioner, represents Brighton, Granby and Oshawa townships, as well as St. Peter Ward 2.
Nicollet County will also need to make a formal decision to join the regional transit project being promoted by MnDOT and spearheaded by the city of St. Peter. But for county officials, there will actually be an anticipated cost savings of more than $42,000. Le Sueur County ($41,729) and Blue Earth County ($45,484) are not expected to be as fortunate, having to kick in additional revenues to make the three-county system workable.
MnDOT’s final phase in a three-year flood mitigation project
The big one begins in February 2016. It’s the final phase of a three-year flood mitigation project by MnDOT to ease potential transportation woes which have troubled the St. Peter area over the years due to flooding of the Minnesota River.
MnDOT’s third phase includes a complete shutdown of U.S. Highway 169 south between St. Peter and Mankato from April to October. Single-lane closures on the 10-mile stretch of roadway are anticipated from February to April, with similar results wrapping up the project in October.
Total cost of the final phase is estimated at between $28.8 and $34 million, according to MnDOT figures.
Last year’s MnDOT project involved raising a small stretch of Hwy. 22 leading southeast out of St. Peter by about a foot, as well as the construction of an earthen bridge and culvert to allow potential flood waters to flow underneath the roadway. Total costs of phase two were estimated at $3.2 million.
The 2014 phase was more disruptive to the St. Peter community and more costly, hitting $13.3 million. It involved U.S. Hwy. 169 north of St. Peter and was hit by construction delays due to spring rains.
MnDOT’s official detour route for its 2016 project reroutes traffic off U.S. Hwy. 169 on St. Peter’s south end, west on to Hwy. 99, then south on Nicollet County Road 13, before turning east on to U.S. Hwy. 14 in North Mankato. But state and regional transportation officials know many travelers will instead take Hwy. 22 out of St. Peter, which prompted improvements to that stretch of roadway in 2015 in anticipation of more traffic.
St. Peter High School: Moving ahead
After two years in the headlines and atop the local news stories, St. Peter Public Schools will shift into ongoing construction work for its new high school on the city’s west side. Additional facilities improvements will also begin at the district’s other sites.
The warm fall and ideal weather conditions allowed construction plans to move ahead of schedule at the new high school site. The $55 million facility is expected to open for students in the fall of 2017.
The school district will be collaborating with city and county officials to finalize access issues to the new high school, which is expected to include a roundabout at the site to better control and slow traffic down on County Road 5, the main entrance into the campus.
And much more politicking ahead
District 19 Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, has announced her retirement. And it didn’t take long for a new candidate to emerge as North Mankato lawyer Nick Frentz announced his intentions to seek the party’s endorsement.
No Republican candidate has yet surfaced; Sheran was unopposed in the 2012 election.
Sheran’s role, however, in the 2016 Minnesota Legislature will be a critical and busy one. The 10-year state legislator, who chairs the key Minnesota Senate Health, Housing and Human Services Committee, should have plenty to say in discussions over ongoing safety issues at the Minnesota Security Hospital and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.