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FILE — Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin (25) is shown in the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in Denver. The Wild have signed Brodin to a seven-year, $42 million contract extension on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Change expected to bring more housing downtown gets commission's backing

Though it expressed misgivings about the ongoing parking shortage, Faribault’s Planning Commission has signed off on the Faribault City Council’s preferred approach to expanding housing downtown.

Under a formula suggested by City Planner Dave Wanberg, the city’s “multiplier” for limiting the number of apartments in a downtown building has been reduced. Previously, it sat at 2,000 square feet per unit to 1,200 square feet per unit.

Initially, the “multiplier” was coupled with a requirement that parking stalls accompany any new housing development. That requirement was scrapped to help enable downtown building owners to develop apartments on the second and third floors of their buildings, according to City Administrator Tim Murray.

On the other hand, Wanberg’s proposal increases the minimum square footage of all apartments in the downtown district except for small efficiency apartments. According to Wanberg this change brings Faribault more into line with national averages.

Wanberg said he isn't certain if, in practice, the ordinance change will increase the number of housing units downtown. However, it will increase flexibility for developers while maintaining safeguards to avoid overcrowding.

The change in city ordinance was recommended by Wanberg afeeter the council backed Developer Todd Nelson’s proposal to convert the upper two floors of the former Masonic Lodge at 230 Central Ave. into apartments. The council was required to issue a variance for the project because of the city’s restrictive formula. Implemented more than 20 years ago, it was designed to address the ongoing problem of limited downtown parking.

Wanberg maintains that 230 Central Ave. wasn’t a particularly remarkable case within the downtown area, and so the ordinance should be changed to ensure a consistent approach that is in line with the current council’s wishes.

Under Wanberg’s proposal, the minimum square footage for efficiency apartments declines from 600 square feet to 550 square feet. By contrast, one-bedroom apartments must increase from 600 to 650 square feet, two bedrooms from 700 to 900 square feet and three bedrooms from 900 to 1,100 square feet.

For some members of the Planning Commission, the idea of having a multiplier at all is redundant and arbitrary. However, the council implemented the multiplier in order to prevent a developer from putting too many apartments into one space.

A 2017 analysis found that under the old guidelines, approximately 100 new apartments could be added to downtown. The recent completion of a new apartment building across from the Community Center doesn’t deduct from that total because it includes its own parking. However, the study also found that less than half of those theoretically allowed apartments would have accompanying parking stalls. The rest would be forced to find parking elsewhere, highlighting the city’s parking woes.

In total, Wanberg has said he is comfortable allowing an increase in parking spots. However, he’s said that the city can still be more efficient in how it provides parking space to avoid crunches during peak times.

“When you add up all of the parking within walking distance of Central Avenue, there is more than enough parking to accommodate residential,” he said. “It just isn’t all going to be on-site.”

In the last couple of years, the city has added downtown parking, purchasing the former Knights of Columbus hall and Columbia Hall, both on Third Street, demolishing the buildings and converting them to parking lots.

To Planning Commissioner Steve White, the parking issue is a much bigger concern. White argued that the need for more parking close to any new developments should be a higher priority, but declined to hold up the ordinance over it.

“We can’t tie parking stalls to this discussion,” he said. “I’ve only got so much fight in me and this is what the city council wants.”

With the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval, it’s likely that the amended ordinance will be put up for a vote at the Faribault City Council’s Sept. 22 meeting.

Masons gets HRA's help for new home's repairs

Masonic Lodge No. 9 will get a little help from Faribault’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority as it deals with a speed bump in its plans to move into an historic downtown building.

Last year, the Masons left behind the historic building at Central Avenue and Third Street NW in a decision that was difficult for many members. Incorporated in 1856 as one of Minnesota’s first Masonic Lodges, the Masons moved into the building in 1875.

Ever since then, the second and third floor of the building had housed the Lodge. But like many service organizations, the Masons have seen their numbers decline drastically, with rolls that once stood at nearly 300 around the turn of the century down to roughly 60. Instead of hanging onto the old building, the Masons sold it to local developer Todd Nelson who owns more than 50 units in Faribault and other properties throughout Rice County.

Mason Jonathan Wood, who owns a construction business, worked hard to maintain the building. Still, the list of repairs and maintenance issues that built up over the years was long and expensive, stretching the organization’s budget. Wood expressed optimism that with far less building space to maintain, the Masons could look forward to a future with a focus on serving the community. First though, the Masons would have to make their way into the new building — and renovate it to suit its needs.

Just like the Mason’s former home, which had a variety of shops on the ground floor below the Masonic Temple, the new building will include a commercial rental space on the ground floor. The floor plan is also set to include a second-floor apartment, behind the Masonic office.

Originally built in the 1880s as a mortuary, the historic building at 24 Third Street has served many uses over the years. It was sold to the Masons by Jim Jasinski, who owns the building next door, formerly Grampa Al’s. Jasinski bought the building with the anticipation that it could be used in a potential expansion of Grampa Al’s. However, that never came to fruition and the building was only minimally maintained, increasing the uncertainty regarding repair and upgrade costs.

Unfortunately for the Masons, the building’s boiler turned out to require nearly $15,000 in repairs. By contrast, the Masons budgeted $500 for radiator repair, after three contractors expressed confidence that the boiler could easily be fired up.

The Masons submitted a request for the full $15,000 to the HRA, however, the Authority’s members felt the request was excessive, particularly given that no established program or relationship with the Masons exists and only one new housing unit would be created.

Authority member Narren Brown drew the line at the $5,000 per project the HRA traditionally provides in assistance for Habitat for Humanity, arguing that any aid should be below that amount. Fellow member Loni Ahlers agreed wholeheartedly.

“I think it would create ruffles in the community if they find out we shelled out 15k for a program we don’t even have funding for,” she said.

Ultimately, just $2,500 in assistance was given to the Masons. While they provided less than 20% of the requested amount, the HRA encouraged the Masons to seek funding from other city sources like the Heritage Preservation Commission and the Economic Development Authority.

Although the amount may have been much smaller than what was asked for, Wood, who is a city councilor and HRA member, but abstained from the decision-making process, expressed gratitude for the award.

“Truth be told, we’re very happy to be receiving the $2,500 from the HRA,” he said. “Just the fact that we were acknowledged and awarded something is a huge blessing.”

Still, Wood said that accessing other funds will be a challenge. While the EDA does have some funds available, and the Masons plan on applying for those, those dollars are designated for exterior renovations.

Likewise, the Masons plan on meeting with the HPC to discuss potential options with regard to Historic Preservation tax credits. But although the building is in the historic district, Wood said that the Masons’ status as a nonprofit organization could limit the aid available.

To make up the remaining amount, Wood said it’s likely that the Masons will have to rely even more on volunteer labor than they were planning on. Already, much of the time and many materials for the full interior remodel have been donated by the Masons themselves.

While Wood said the group isn’t opposed to more volunteer labor because of the importance of the project, he said that it will likely push the timeline for completion back from November into potentially December or January.

“We’ll have to make that up by doing the painting inside ourselves, and doing the flooring ourselves,” he said. “Whereas had we been able to sub that out, we could have done that in a much quicker timeframe.”

Paula Trenda, owner of Owatonna’s Curly Girlz Candy, has been named Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year for 2020. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Small Business Administration)

Board approves Roosevelt addition for early childhood classes

One cohesive building for early childhood through fifth-grade students is the dream for the Faribault School District, and one school’s transformation will make that dream achievable.

The Faribault School Board on Monday approved construction of an early childhood addition at Roosevelt Elementary School. The project involves the transition of McKinley Early Childhood Center into the expanded area by early 2022.

Early Childhood Executive Director Olivia Sage shared ways the project would support the vision and mission of McKinley Early Childhood Center by providing high-quality early childhood education to all families in collaboration with the community’s early childhood partners. The addition would also allow McKinley to better fulfill its mission to provide support, encouragement and education to families.

Sage explained how moving early childhood education to Roosevelt correlates with the McKinley strategic plan pillars of family and community engagement, student-centered learning, equity, mental health and safety, and school climate. Having one, cohesive building supporting early childhood through fifth-grade students will support the work of building upon relationships within home schools, she said. The multi-grade structure will allow for more partnerships with older students and provide continuity in the effort to have students well-read by third grade.

The additional space that comes with the project will increase opportunities for programming designed to impact students socially and emotionally, such as a wrap-around program and cross-age peers. Roosevelt would continue to share resources with the other elementary schools, Jefferson and Lincoln. Sage said one benefit being considered is access to a social worker.

“I think the biggest thing we can speak to is this project is showing where the district values early childhood education,” Sage said. “Studies show how those experiences do make a difference in the introduction of [students’] academic success.”

The early childhood projects qualify for lease levy authority funding, and the school district can authorize a Certificate of Participation, which allows investors to be a part of the project. The district would then own the ground upon which it was built and pay off the lease with annual payments of $250,000 for 20 years. As a result, the tax impact would be $250,000 a year — an additional $12 per year to the average Faribault homeowner.

That [$250,000] is the maximum we were allowing them to go to,” Adams said. “We’re trying to be mindful of our taxpayers.”

District Finance director Andrew Adams said certificates could be issued as early as November, but the district could also push back the timeline. The market will impact that decision, he said, as the district wants to be cognizant of the interest rate.

According to the soft timeline of the construction project, the district will establish a final blueprint for the addition by December and send out project bids in January. Construction will take place throughout spring and summer 2021 and wrap up in the fall. The building will be move-in ready early in 2022.

McKinley’s move to Roosevelt will leave a vacancy at its current building, which the district plans to use for the Faribault Area Learning Center. However, since the lease levy can’t fund that endeavor, the district views that move as a separate project to plan for further down the road.

In planning for the overall mission of providing a neighborhood school within the district, the School Board asked Adams, Sage and Director of Teaching and Learning Tracy Corcoran to consider the ideas of a magnet school and language immersion program. The three plan to bring further ideas to School Board meetings in the next month or two.

The board has discussed converting Roosevelt to a magnet school, one with a specialized program that would attract students interested in its offerings. The idea, district leaders say, would discourage families from open enrolling their children in other districts, an issue that has led to a significant decrease in the district’s student population and massive budget cuts.

Board member Courtney Cavellier said she doesn’t need a magnet school model to be excited about the project ahead.

“I am thrilled,” Cavellier said. “I’m ready to vote, and I want to start breaking ground tomorrow.”