Developers of the planned downtown 79-unit Fifth Street Lofts project want a cash payment city ordinances require cut in half.

The payment — a park dedication fee used to enhance existing parks or purchase land for new ones  — may be made instead of dedicating land in their development for a city park.

The proposal, from developers Rebound/Stencil Development which plans to construct the complex on the southwest corner of Fifth and Washington streets, was met with resistance Tuesday from several Northfield City Councilors wary of the request because of a persistent shortage of parks funding. Under the developer's proposal, Rebound/Stencil Development would pay the city $29,000 instead of $58,000.

The proposal seemed to be on the verge of being rejected until Councilor David DeLong moved to table the request until the March 10 meeting. In voicing concern about the plan, councilors noted park funding has consistently lagged behind needs, so much so that the city is seeking legislative approval for a November vote on a half-cent sales tax to fund park improvements and repairs.

The fate of the agenda item was cast into further doubt because with Councilors Erica Zweifel and Jessica Peterson White absent, only one councilor could vote no for the proposal to pass.

Councilor Suzie Nakasian said she was concerned about the precedent an approval would set.

“I love this project, but I really struggle with this,” she said, suggesting the funding could be used in parks near Fifth Street Lofts.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell also expressed doubt over the request because it comes as the city is also considering an extension of the Riverwalk Corridor under Second Street.

DeLong suggested the city use a sliding scale for park dedication fees based on the number of units developers plan to build.

“The more units you put there, the lower your fee,” he said.

David DeLong mug

DeLong

DeLong, who expressed support for reducing the fee, said the reduction is necessitated by balancing the need for increased density with more funding for city services. He said he anticipates similar proposals will come forward as more areas are redeveloped.

“This is definitely a compromise,” he said, “however, I think it’s a good one because you’re keeping the affordable housing in there.”

In requesting the move, developers, who said they weren't aware of the fee until they submitted building plans, noted their project meets city objectives to create better and higher uses for the downtown central business district.

"This project will not only expand housing opportunities by 79 units, the development will result in increased property values and taxes by 580%," they wrote in written correspondence. 

They noted a green space along the southern edge of the development is expected to connect nearby neighborhoods to the downtown district and will be open to all Northfield residents, and pointed out that the city code allows the council to waive the fee.

" …The development team believes in the city providing well maintained parks, and believes this reduction is a fair alternative," they wrote.

Ten percent of the units will be affordable. The project is slated to cost $13.3 million.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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