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  • Writer's pictureBecky Norton

St Johns Hospital Reuse CUP/PUD

I have read and listened to every resident and community member who has spoken or written.  I spent countless hours reading, researching, meeting with staff, and visiting the site and neighborhood. I heard concerns regarding home values, traffic pattern changes, the reuse density, concerns about the developer/project specific concerns.  And whether these concerns rise to the threshold of the criteria of conditional use permits (CUPs) or planned unit developments (PUDs).

One of the challenges of being a city council member is realizing our role and responsibilities and knowing the limits of the Council.  For example, the Council can’t tell private property owners what to do with their property aside from following city policies. This is not the City’s property so we can’t elicit RFPs.  The city can indirectly encourage some of those options through economic development and other entities but that is not our role at the moment-- we cannot mandate what Mayo does with this property any more than we can mandate what a homeowner does to their home, outside of following city policies. We are required to respond in a timely manner so not to put either the seller or developer in indefinite limbo.  We were required to respond to the application for CUP and PUD that is before the Council by August 1.

Impacts on home values are of concern. Obviously, no one can know the future, we can only do the best we can using the information and studies we have.  Random guesses won’t get us far. In some conversations with experts in housing, A vacant building would likely eventually depress values. To be clear that does not mean to me that any reuse is better than none.  A vacant building can be better than the wrong reuse. But a reasonable reuse could stabilize the neighborhood. Above market rate townhomes/condos or single family homes could depress the more moderately valued homes in the area.  And, is above market rate homes the housing stock the city most needs? Comparable single or duplex family homes could be great in this neighborhood, but it is not the option for City Council to consider that’s on the table. At this time the only consideration the Council can make is whether the current reuse proposal meets the guidelines of the city policies.  We are not being asked to choose any of these other alternatives at this time, they are only considerations as we weigh reuses. We only have this one proposal to act on.

Neighbors also raised concerns about the potential traffic increase.  Other than reuse as a park space, there will be a traffic increase from now to any reuse-that is just basic facts from vacancy to reuse.  If we set the standard as when it was used as a hospital with people coming and going with various appointments including ambulance/helicopter traffic, then residential is a moderate to low comparison.  It is located on a collector street, the neighborhood and street is designed to accommodate a higher level of traffic than it currently has. Any reuse would see some traffic increase. What is the appropriate level?  Using the best data information we have and it makes sense, residential reuse would be lower than office reuse and lower than hospital/clinic use. It seems to be within the appropriate range at an appropriate density for that location.

There were also some concerns about the specific project/plan and developer.  I too noted an inconsistency in the plans and the number of units being requested.  One resident noted only 99 were showing up on the layouts, yet 102 were being requested.  I chose not to focus on the unit inconsistency in the meeting, though I was prepared to had other council members been supportive of the high density.  But because it was clear the unit density was being decreased and the council would later approve a final plan, it was not an issue at this time in this meeting, but it is noted.  Parking space counts weren’t consistent with the drawing. I walked and roughly measured the area; I do believe the developer can accommodate the number of stalls sited in the last submission, I will give the developer the benefit of the doubt that the counts are accurate but the sketch was a rough sketch presented as a quick update.  Final designs will be provided before final approval. I felt the small green space provided was inadequate to meet the needs of the residents let alone of the neighborhood. In my opinion the developer doesn’t need to meet the greenspace needs of the residents, though it would be a good idea to make the development more in line with the general welfare of the neighborhood.  The design though does need to meet the needs of the project’s residents; therefore it must include green/park space, parking, apartment design, amenities and common spaces etc. The easement was never fully addressed by the developer, which was disappointing, but I knew that if the easement exists it will be followed, period. Unfortunately, the lack of attention to these details by the developer hinders relationship building and trust between residents and the developer.  Sometimes it’s the little things, like not including the easement or misspelling Red Wing. Since this was just the preliminary plan application; these concerns will be more important in the next step when the Council approves the final plan and will need to be addressed then for approval.

The requested density was more than two zones greater than the current zone, and while the city policy allows for this in reusing spaces, it seemed in great contrast to the density in the surrounding neighborhood. Reducing the density as set by the council has the best chance of meeting the needs of the whole community now and into the future.  It allows reuse rather than abandonment of that site. It increases the affordable housing stock available to our community for a wide variety of individuals: young adults just starting out, adults who don’t want to or can’t purchase or maintain a home, individuals working, seniors, single parents, and many more. We cannot grow manufacturing and other jobs without affordable housing for our employees.  Seniors downsizing frees up family homes which adds to our economy and our schools. New housing will bring in income to the neighborhood as well as human and social capital. It also provides property taxes to the city even if it uses TIF- more on TIF at another time. Yet, it still needs to be a good fit for our community; it needs to meet residents’ needs as a safe, affordable, healthy place to live. Decreasing the density and the other conditions has the potential to meet these needs in this reuse project.

Finally, the City is not the seller so we cannot mandate a demolition or a sale to the city for greenspace—no matter how desirable those options might be.  We are tasked with responding only to this project within the parameters set by the policies of the city. Given all of the information from residents and considering the community and future of Red Wing as a whole, I feel we agreed on a reasonable set of conditions.  It’s possible that this developer will not find the conditions fiscally feasible. If they choose not to pursue this project then Mayo representatives will have some sense of what the residents and current city council is open to as they consider other future options.

If you have more questions or feel I have not addressed a concern or have more information please feel free to reach out to me.

Becky Norton

Red Wing City Council Ward 3

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