Northeast Faribault residents filled the City Hall meeting room Tuesday in protest against a proposed three-story apartment complex at the former Mayo Clinic site.
While no votes were taken at the work session, developer Nate Stencil made it clear that council feedback would determine how — or whether — he moves forward with a request for a conditional use permit and tax increment financing. What he heard was a council steadfast in backing residents who found the entire plan distasteful.
Only Councilor Elizabeth Cap was clear in her support; Royal Ross’ suggestion to redirect traffic in the area and lessen any impact was met with loud groans. None of the four remaining councilors — Tom Spooner, Peter van Sluis, Janna Viscomi and Jon Wood — said they could support the project as is.
“We have to think of our whole community and who wants to potentially live here,” said Cap, arguing that the project was a good one.
With less than a 1 percent vacancy rate in Faribault and amid pleas from employers who’ve expressed difficulty attracting workers to a town with little available housing, the city has worked for more than a year to attract residential developers. In recent months it’s heard from four developers interested in building apartments.
And while three have met with the council’s approval, plans for the 924 First St. NE project have been met with resistance. Neighbors, who’ve be living yards from the planned 78-unit structure say the increased traffic it would create would disrupt their neighborhood.
“It’s not about what type of housing, it’s about the density and traffic,” said Councilor Spooner, who lives nearby. Spooner, who spent years on the city’s Planning Commission and opposed the plan from start, called the proposal “bad planning.”
Stencil’s Stencil Group, has considered the site for months. It’s modified the project, reducing it from 89 to 78 units so it would be three stories, not four. It also added underground parking and pitched roofs so it would blend with the community, and removed some surface parking and balconies on the residential side of the building. Last month it met with nearby residents to hear their feedback.
“We got mostly negative comments,” Stencil said. “We want to be a good neighbor and listen to the comments without packing up our bags and going home.”
The amendments didn’t appear to be enough for the neighbors.
Councilor Wood said he wants Stencil Group in Faribault and asked if there were other sites to consider or changes that could be made that would allow it to remain.
“We’re pretty busy in communities that are accepting us and there’s only so much time and resources,” Stencil said, adding that his firm has looked at other sites, but its preferred locations have already been spoken for, and that a further reduction in units would reduce the financial viability of the project.
“People need homes to live in,” said Councilor Cap. “Everyone deserves fair housing… [and] it would help with the economy and help the community grow. This neighborhood is not as welcoming as they could be.”
Cap continued to say that the residents had a “not in my backyard” mentality and wasn’t welcoming minorities and those who are low-income.
The complex, as planned, would be 90 percent market rate.
Tom Stanley, who has lived near the former clinic for 40 years, said Cap was misrepresenting the neighbors, adding that their concerns were strictly about the size of the building and the traffic it would bring.
“This building does not belong [in our neighborhood],” Stanley said. “I get it, people have a right to [housing], but you’re displacing people to meet that goal for a building that could be anywhere else.”