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Faribault councilor proposes incentives he says would bring added housing
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Fresh off a successful re-election campaign, one Faribault councilor is proposing what he says could be a solution to one of the city’s most difficult challenges: housing.

For years, the shortage of housing the average worker can afford has been at the top of the mind for the council and business community. While the challenge certainly isn’t specific to Faribault or Rice County, strong economic growth has made it significantly more challenging.

With companies from Daikin to SageGlass making record investments in the region, the need for more workers has increased, particularly in the manufacturing and industrial sectors. Yet across the state, a workforce shortage has left companies hard-pressed to find qualified workers. With families looking for where they can afford to live as they consider where to work, Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen promised to use the resources of the city’s Economic Development Authority to deliver affordable housing.

In order to attract more builders to Faribault, Councilor Jonathan Wood said that just as multifamily developers and businesses have benefited from grant dollars and the creation of local TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts, incentives may be needed to attract single family home builders.

Offering a break on building permit fees could be one option. Under Wood’s proposal, the first permit fee would remain the same, but if a builder is building multiple homes, the second permit fee would be half-off and no permit fees would be charged on subsequent homes.

Wood said he’s not aware of any communities that currently have a similar policy, and it would put a dent in the city’s bottom line. However, he said the long-term benefits in greater revenues could more than cover that if the policy is successful.

“Every builder right now is thinking about what community will be the most friendly to us, because the margins are getting smaller,” he said.

If they build it

At least until recently, the city’s shortage of multifamily housing was particularly acute. The city’s most recent housing study, completed in 2017, showed a vacancy rate of less than 1% in the multifamily housing market, far below the recommended level of 5%.

Thanks to determined efforts, the city managed to secure several major multifamily housing projects. Leading the way was developer Mac Hamilton’s 44-unit Hillside Apartments development, which opened across from the Community Center earlier this year. Hamilton’s apartments don’t exactly qualify as affordable housing, as the developer proudly boasted that he “spared no expense” with their construction. That helped him to get the units on the market quickly, since he didn’t have to apply for affordable housing grant dollars.

Hamilton’s project is far from the only project set to be completed soon. Others include the 111-unit Straight River Apartments, 76-unit Lofts at Evergreen Knoll, and 68-unit Titan Development project.

Once they’re all complete, the local market will boast more than 300 new units. While some of those will be affordable and others will not, Kuennen said that increased availability of housing at all levels of the market is what is needed.

In addition to multifamily housing, the council has considered everything from reductions in water and sewer availability fees to a potential mobile home park to provide additional housing.

The single-family housing market remains particularly tight with the price of housing rising by 7% last year and the city’s available housing stock a fraction of what would be considered a healthy amount, according to a report presented by the St. Paul Association of Realtors earlier this year.

For Wood, the housing challenge is more than an issue that comes before the council in one form or another on a semi-regular basis. He owns his own construction company and has found success in the business, building about 300 houses.

Despite his love for the community, Wood has found it difficult to afford to build houses in Faribault. Compared to other communities in southern Minnesota, he noted that the average price per square foot that Faribault homes is much lower. Kuennen has also noted that higher home values are a major reason why major builders have opted to build in the south Twin Cities metro instead. Given that the cost of building the home in both places is the same, it only makes sense that they build where profits are higher.

Those calculations have become all the more important in the wake of COVID-19. Wood noted that construction costs have risen, with shortages causing a particularly meteoric rise in the cost of lumber. Fortunately, lumber costs have begun to level off somewhat, but remain high.

Even if a buyer is willing to pay a higher price for a home, getting the bank to underwrite a loan for the higher price is often impossible. That’s because banks are comparing the home’s value to comparable neighboring properties, which in Faribault is often older homes.

Wood suggested that TIF-district style programs could also catch the attention of big-name national builders. Even if the breaks offered are only modest, the fact that Faribault is reaching out to them could prove a key incentive to come down from the south metro.

Kuennen has talked with Wood about his proposals, but said the city is waiting for the comprehensive housing study commissioned in October before it makes any big moves. That process has taken longer than expected, but Kuennen anticipates it will be complete by February.

Owatonna native looks for love on 'The Bachelor'
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Owatonna native Anna Redman will be competing for a man’s heart on national TV beginning Monday, but the show’s host suggests the experience may not be all roses.

Redman, a 2014 Owatonna High School graduate, is one of 32 women vying for the final rose from Matt James on the upcoming season of “The Bachelor,” scheduled to premiere at 7 p.m. Monday on ABC. James, 28, is the first Black man to star as the lead in the series.

Contestants aren’t available to the media before the show, but Bachelor host Chris Harrison said viewers should “definitely keep an eye on Anna” during a livestream announcing the show’s contestants earlier this month.

“She found herself embroiled in one of the most dramatic moments of the season,” Harrison said.

Harrison noted that Redman has a vibe to her similar to previous Bachelorette leads Trista Sutter and Hannah Brown. Redman’s sweet with a “big, bubbly personality,” he said.

Those comments came after Harrison worried that he butchered the pronunciation of Owatonna in the livestream, although he pronounced it correctly.

“I always love to give a shoutout to those towns where we have not had anybody from before so Owatonna is a newbie to our “Bachelor” franchise so welcome, Owatonna,” Harrison said.

Redman wants to date a man who wants to have a family, is honest and open with communication, can match her intellect and have fun, according to ABC’s bio for Redman.

“She is looking for a man who will take her as the open book that she is — the good, the bad and the ugly,” the bio reads.

ABC describes Redman as “a small town girl living the big city life” after she was “born and raised in a tiny town in Minnesota.” Redman has worked in Chicago as a copywriter since graduating from Loyola University.

“As much as she loved her childhood filled with Friday nights at the local bowling alley and family dinners at Applebee’s, this high school cheerleading captain knew she was meant for something bigger,” according to ABC’s bio for Redman.

Now she’s living the life she dreamed about in Chicago, according to her bio.

ABC notes that her parents, Michelle and Jerry Redman of Owatonna, nicknamed her “Hollywood” as a child because of her love of chic scarves and oversized sunglasses.

In a 2003 People’s Press story about Redman’s appearance in a national Target print ad, she said she likes to model, but would like to become an actress.

“Ever since she was little, she’s wanted to do this,” her mother told the People’s Press. “She’d flip through things like this and say, ‘Mom, I want to be in a magazine.’ And she would tell me that all the time.”

Marie Sexton ends her two-decade career as a Medford councilor

For the past 24 years, Marie Sexton has positioned herself in the Medford City Council chambers during the meetings to sit as close to the public as possible.

Though she is considered by many one of the most prominent pillars of the community, she has been known to prefer to remain behind the scenes throughout her work for the city. After more than two decades of service, however, Sexton finished her last city council meeting Monday night.

“I can’t tell you where 24 years went or how they happened,” Sexton said. “I will miss not being in the driver’s seat, but there has to be a time where others use this opportunity, too. I thought it would be selfish to keep on doing it, that’s it. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy it or I didn’t love it and I think that will show in the next few years. I’m not going to just disappear.”

Sexton first ran for the Medford City Council in 1996 and took office in 1997. In a 2017 feature on Sexton’s time on council, she told the People’s Press she had never planned to be a part of the government board. In fact, she pinpointed a zoning issue in her neighborhood in the ‘90s that led her to become aware of a vacant seat on council that nobody was willing to fill.

“Nobody stepped up to the plate,” Sexton said three years ago as she reminisced about the eye-opening journey as a civil servant she embarked on all those years ago.

After she won her first election in 1996, she ran again and won in 2000, 2004 and 2008. On one occasion, she didn’t even campaign. She figured, she said, that the people who were likely to vote already knew her. Either they knew her, liked what she was doing for the community and would vote for her, or they knew her, didn’t much care for what she was doing and would vote for someone else. Either way, she felt there was no reason for her to go door-to-door asking people for their votes, so she didn’t.

Following the 2010 death of her husband, Jerry, Sexton did not file for re-election in 2012. But then, six months later, one of the councilors resigned, once again leaving an opening on the board that required someone to step up to the plate to fill. Sexton was approached by city leaders to once again fill the seat, and she has remained in that seat ever since.

Until January, that is, when Chad Merritt and Mandy Mueller will step into their new roles on the city council. While Merritt and Mueller defeated incumbent Mat Dempsey during November’s election, Sexton did not put herself in the running this time around.

“Everyone has capabilities that can benefit the city – you just have to let them have a shot,” Sexton said, adding that it was reassuring to see six people run for the two open seats. “It’s not because I’m not interested, and I’m not just quitting, but I would have had to ask for another four years and then I would have been here almost 30 – at some point you’re saying no one else can do this, and that’s just not the case.”

Sexton said over the years she has been a part of a lot of controversial discussions on the council, most of them pertaining to big street projects. While she suspects there may have been two or three votes she later rejected, Sexton said none could really come to mind and that her vote to restart the process for the Main Street reconstruction project with the new council in 2021 was certainly not one of them.

“This project got so controversial because people felt like the information wasn’t being shared with those most directly impacted, and while COVID certainly had something to do with that, if nobody is feeling they are being listened to, then that is a problem,” Sexton said. “If there is one thing I’ve always thought I’ve been good at, it is listening to the people. I am not intimidated to listen to them, even if they’re yelling at me. I want all the information and opinions I can get because I’m here to do a good job for them, not because I think I’m the only one with all the answers.”

Though Sexton said she doesn’t have the answers, she certainly comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience. This is why Mayor-elect Danny Thomas has asserted that the veteran will continue to play a crucial role in city government.

“It is so important to me to have an individual there that I can bounce things off of who can look back on the history and past knowledge they have to help support us,” Thomas said, adding that other council members have indicated to him their wish to have Sexton remain involved. “She loves her community, and it is important to have an individual like her around. I feel damn lucky, that’s for sure.”

Thomas said at the organizational meeting scheduled for Jan. 5, he plans to hire Sexton as an independent contractor who will write grants for the city of Medford. According to Thomas, this is an area that Sexton is particularly passionate about and does well.

“Not many people want to keep heading down that direction of giving and giving to the community after 24 years,” Thomas said. “That is an asset you cannot get just anywhere.”

While Sexton is unsure of exactly all the ways she will be able to play a role in Medford’s future, she only knows for sure that she will step up once again whenever it is asked of her.

“I live here, so I’m not going to let the place fall apart if I can still help out,” she laughed. “I care what happens to the town, I am interested in what’s going on and the ways we’re going to get where we need to go. I can still help with that – I don’t need to sit on the council to help.”

But will this be the last of Sexton’s political career? With a knowing laugh, she said likely not.

“It’s in my blood – if an opening becomes available I might just apply again,” Sexton said. “I always took it as an honor that someone would vote for me, and I appreciate the honor of doing all I could for them. I have to give credit to everyone in this community, because the only way we’re going to get anything done is by working together with the ideas and the collaboration of all the people.”