Arden Hills sticking to agreed-upon Rice Creek Commons master plan

As Ramsey County seeks revisions to the Rice Creek Commons Master Plan, Arden Hills hopes to move forward with the design both parties initially agreed upon. 

Both the city and county voted to approve the current master plan in December 2016, which called for 1,460 residential units, 10% of which had to be affordable at 80% of the area median income. 

In 2017, the Joint Development Authority — consisting of representatives from both the city and the county — selected Alatus, LLC, as the developer for Rice Creek Commons, located on a portion of the former Twin Cities Arms and Ammunition Plant site.

 

Negotiating the land sale

This past fall, after seeming on the verge of finalizing the land sale to Alatus, the county — which owns the 427-acre Rice Creek Commons site — decided it wanted a higher density of residential units.

“Somewhere after September, the county decided — or the developer, or both — that they were no longer honoring the plan that was put together and wanted more density,” Arden Hills Mayor David Grant said in an interview. “Our position is: We’ve agreed on a plan. Your negotiations with the developer may be difficult, but we’ve agreed on a plan.”

On Nov. 6, according to a timeline provided by the City of Arden Hills, the county pulled out of ongoing revisions to the plan and ended contact with the city, citing concerns not only over the agreed upon density, but also over the number of affordable housing units.

 

Responding to changing needs 

According to a letter from Jim McDonough, chair of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, more recent input from the community, and a fresh comparison of the Rice Creek Commons Master Plan with the draft Ramsey County Comprehensive Plan, were the main factors prompting the desire for increased density and more affordable housing.

“It was determined that a development of 1,460 residential units — of which only 10 percent were identified as affordable at 80 percent area median income — is not a project that is in alignment with the near and long-term goals of Ramsey County,” McDonough said in the Feb. 8 letter. 

 

Getting exact figures

In that same letter, the county requested mediation, which the city declined as premature, saying it still did not have exact figures for the county’s proposed revisions.

“The [Joint Powers Agreement] contemplates evolutionary changes to the development and provides a mechanism for revisions during the build out of the development. But it is impossible for the City or the public to evaluate the traffic, environmental and service delivery impacts of ‘more,’” wrote members of the Arden Hills City Council in their Feb. 25 response to the county. 

It wasn’t until late March that the county specified that it was hoping to increase the number of residential units from 1,460 to 2,500, in a report prepared for the April 2 county board meeting. In the report, the county cited funding as a rationale for increasing density. 

“The closer the density moves toward a maximum development scenario of 2,500 total housing units, the easier the project will be to finance and successfully deliver,” the report said.

 

Trying to move forward

Meanwhile, Grant said he hopes to avoid potentially undoing the work the Joint Development Authority has already put in, including the public meetings and input that played a role in shaping the initial master plan.

“People get confused — that maybe we’re still trying to agree on a number. We have already agreed on a number,” said Grant. “There’s been a considerable amount of work put into it. And both the city and the county passed resolutions approving the development plan.”

At the most recent city council meeting on April 22, resident and former council member Gregg Larson asked council, “What is it that scares you about more density and more housing units that are affordable?”

Meanwhile, another resident was quoted by the Star Tribune saying, “It just seems like quite a rash decision to change what’s been worked on for several years.”

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7823.

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