Proposed apartments

Council members reviewed this image of the proposed apartment building to be constructed at the city’s old public works site off First Avenue NE along the Straight River. (Image courtesy of the city of Faribault)

Sifting through plans for a five-story, 96-apartment at the old public works site, Faribault City Council members on Tuesday discussed whether the project included adequate green space and if it was a design worthy of the city’s downtown.

Last month, the council paved the way for the project to go forward when it accepted a bid from Faribault’s BCM Construction to raze the existing buildings at the site for a cost of $26,300.

The apartment project is the city’s latest attempt in its ongoing effort to develop the site. Last year, the city terminated a preliminary agreement with developer Kevin McMenamy of KPM Enterprises to bring an outdoor recreation facility to the site, complete with kayaking, bicycling, a high-ropes course and kayaking, finding that McMenamy violated its terms.

Due to the old public works site’s history as the city dump, new development will require significant cleanup in addition to the removal of existing structures. Community & Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen noted that the design was carefully tailored to address the needs and issues of the specific site.

Councilors were broadly supportive of the project, viewing it as a necessary measure to provide more housing. With the city growing and businesses expanding, the Faribault’s housing shortage — the city has a vacancy rate of less than 1% — has emerged as a major issue in recent years.

Councilor Janna Viscomi raised concerns that because of the design, little green space is left on the property. Without room for a front lawn or park, traffic in downtown area parks and green spaces would increase significantly, she noted.

Kuennen noted that the project is a key part of the city’s Downtown 2040 Master Plan. In addition to reducing Faribault’s housing shortage, the Master Plan seeks to provide an abundance of green spaces within walking distance of downtown.

While supportive of the project overall, Councilor Jonathan Wood disapproved of the building’s design. Wood lamented that while the residential floors include significant overhangs, the complex’s main floor, which will contain a parking garage, does not. Wood said the failure to include overhangs on the main floor would give the facility an appearance of being one large, garish building.

“As I drive down this road, I see a wall,” said Wood. “I don’t interpret it as separate buildings.”

Project engineers noted that extending the overhangs to the ground would increase the cost significantly, because each overhang would need to be frost-protected. City Engineer Mark DuChene added that the design was intended to be as cost-efficient as possible and minimize environmental disturbance.

“Between environmental consultants, engineers, city staff, this is what we landed at as the best, most efficient design,” DuChene said.

Other members of the council, including Mayor Kevin Voracek and Councilor Royal Ross, said they were satisfied with the plans and look forward to increasing the housing supply downtown.

“I love the design,” Voracek said. “It’s the classic modern architecture right now, nothing over the top.”

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew.

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