After gaining approval from the planning commission the week prior, the St. Michael city council took up the issue of the proposed Villages of Town Center apartments at last week’s meeting. The council voted unanimously to approve the project after a brief period for citizen comments, questions for the developer and discussion among themselves. Work will begin this summer, and tenants are expected to begin moving in in the spring of 2019.
Community development director, Marc Weigle, started the conversation by giving a recap of the project and concerns the community expressed. Council members also said they read the notes on every commenter who spoke during the planning and zoning open forum.
The main concerns discussed included traffic and safety considerations on MacIver Ave. and the management contract that the city would make with the apartment’s developers.
The developer’s representative, Henry Hanson, said he didn’t have specifics on the management contract at this point, but said that their company’s previous projects have been well-managed.
“All of our requirements would have to meet what [the city’s] underlying requirements are,” Hanson said.
City attorney Dave Lenhardt said the details of the management plan would be worked out between him and the developers after council approval of the project and before approval of the final plat. Items to be addressed in the management plan will include cleanliness, exterior maintenance, the presence of on-site management, criminal background checks for tenants and more. He said the agreement would give the city recourse to perform maintenance work itself and then bill the facility if exterior work is not kept up according to agreements.
“I think our development agreement will be pretty extensive with a development like this,” Lenhardt said.
One resident expressed concerns with the intersection of Frankfort Parkway and MacIver Ave., saying the intersection is already unsafe for pedestrians who frequent the Frankfort Parkway trails. Laura Byer said she is concerned with the intersection’s safety this summer since more people will be using MacIver Ave. as a detour with County Road 18’s scheduled road reconstruction, in addition to construction beginning on Westbridge Church, townhomes just west of the Highlands neighborhood off Frankfort Parkway and now the apartment construction beginning this summer.
City administrator, Steve Bot, said the intersection of Frankfort and MacIver has had a total of nine accidents since 2003, when Frankfort Parkway was completed. None of them were pedestrian related. He said the roads were designed to handle the higher capacity.
However, Bot did say the city would look at options to make the road feel safer for pedestrians when they complete work on MacIver Ave. in fall 2018 or 2019. Options include a pedestrian flasher like the newly installed ones on Naber Ave. near Middle School East, or a narrowing of the intersection so pedestrians can cross quicker. He said they feel a four-way stop would not be the best option, especially during the winter.
“Because of steep slopes that are on that road, forcing everyone to stop could potentially create a more dangerous situation than is there today,” Bot said.
However, he said they may consider a temporary 4 way stop this summer during the time MacIver will be used as a detour route due to CSAH 18’s reconstruction.
Councilmembers had a few comments before voting on the proposal. First, mayor Kevin Kasel said that although the city’s comprehensive plan was formed in 2004, the council actively reviews the plan regularly and makes tweaks when deemed necessary. He said he feels this complex fits in well with that comprehensive plan.
“This isn’t something we developed back in 2004 and just said ‘okay, we’re going to let it sit there,’” Kasel said. “We’ve had a lot of active discussion about if anything should be changed.”
Councilmember Keith Wettschreck also went on the record to say he would not be in favor of anything that he felt it would be detrimental to the people who live in St. Michael. He said there were some issues to work through, such as MacIver Ave., but felt the city would work through them in a smart way.
Councilmember Matt Kammann asked if there was any data showing increased crime per capita in St. Michael’s other high-density areas. Wright County police sergeant, Ben Schaap, was in attendance at the meeting, and offered to speak on the subject. He said he did not have actual data on-hand, but said he has served the St. Michael area for five years and has not experienced a concerning level of crime within the city’s other apartment buildings.
“I have no factual data with me, but from the standpoint of working here … we really don’t have any heinous problems,” Schaap said. “There’s not anything significant that comes from the specific, high-density apartment complexes that we have.”