Roseville makes way for affordable senior building


A vacant lot used for Christmas tree sales on Rice Street and Owasso Boulevard in Roseville, along with three other lots to the north on which there are single-family homes, is the proposed site of a 60-unit affordable senior housing building. (Mike Munzenrider)

The proposed CommonBond Communities building would be in Roseville’s far northeast corner on the edge of a single-family home neighborhood. City council members who voted in favor of making way for the building said its location on Rice Street, a major arterial, would make it the ideal place for high-density housing. (Thomas Bonneville/Lillie Suburban Newspapers)

Neighbors argue it won’t fit the area

 

Before a near standing-room-only crowd, a split Roseville City Council on June 3 cleared the way for a proposed affordable senior housing complex in the northeast corner of the city.

Neighbor after neighbor stated their objections to the planned three-story, 60-unit building on Rice Street at Owasso Boulevard, while affordable housing advocates from within the community voiced their support.

While nearly all stated they’re in favor of affordable housing, concerns centered on the high-density building not being the right fit for the boundary of a neighborhood made up of single-family homes.
Backers said there’s a clear need for such housing focused on seniors, and sang praises of the developer, nonprofit affordable housing company CommonBond Communities.

The council voted 3-2 on three items needed to make such an apartment complex possible, approving a comprehensive land use map change, a zoning change and a conditional use permit for it. Planning for the building is still in the early stages.

Voting with the majority, council member Wayne Groff said that actions speak louder than words.

“If you are for affordable housing then I think you need to vote for affordable housing,” he said, “not just say you’re for it.”

Joining Groff in his votes were Mayor Dan Roe and council member Jason Etten. Council members Bob Willmus and Lisa Laliberte voted against the three measures, saying the city’s planning and analysis of how the building would fit in the area was insufficient. 

High demand

Leah Stockstrom, project manager for the development, explained to the council CommonBond’s plans. She noted the nonprofit is in 55 cities throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. It has a building in neighboring Little Canada, and residents who live in it told the council they give the company high marks for its management.

The building, dubbed “Owasso Gardens,” would sit on four lots at the northwest corner of the Rice Street and Owasso Boulevard intersection. The lot at the corner is empty, the site of a former gas station, while the three lots to the north along Rice Street currently house single family homes.

Stockstrom said the building would have eight units whose rent would be set at 30% of the area median income, while the remaining 52 would be set at 50% AMI, well priced for seniors with a low, fixed income.

That means single bedroom units would range in price from $722 to $890 a month, while a two-bedroom would go for $1,069.

CommonBond has been meeting with neighbors, Stockstrom said, and responded to concerns about stormwater and privacy, advancing ideas for dealing with runoff on-site and ways the surrounding single-family homes can be buffered from the apartment building.

Stockstrom said CommonBond is targeting the corner of Rice and Owasso because it’s near transit — Rice Street is a major throughway — and because the building would allow Roseville seniors to stay in the community as they age.

Stockstrom said numbers back up the need for such housing. Based on a 2018 study conducted by the city, 23% of the city’s population is seniors. In the next decade and a half there will be a need for 166 more affordable units in Roseville, and currently there’s a 0% vacancy rate for such units in the city.

Stockstrom also pointed out that since 1978, no new income-restricted affordable housing for seniors has been built in Roseville.

 

‘Going in your backyard’

While even those opposed to the building had nice things to say about working with CommonBond, they were clear they thought the complex was wrong for the neighborhood.

They raised concerns of spot zoning, the density and size of the building and its proximity to the surrounding homes. 

Peter Heppner, who said he and his wife had bought a home nearby about a year ago, put together a petition against the building and had signatures on it from 85% of those who live within 500 feet of the proposed site.

He said rezoning the lots from low density to high density could set a precedent that would have implications for Roseville in the years to come.

“It puts us one step closer to removing low-density zoning altogether, like what’s happening in Minneapolis,” he said.

Jim Bull, chair of the city Planning Commission and whose name appears on the petition, spoke out against the proposed building, which is slated to be built two blocks from his house. 

The seven-member commission voted 5-0 in May to support the complex and move the plans to the council. Bull recused himself from the vote because of his opposition; commission member Michelle Pribyl also recused herself because the architectural firm she works for has done design work for CommonBond in the past.

“This [building] does not contribute to the vitality and the identity of the neighborhood,” Bull told the council. “I want you to imagine a three-story building and parking lot going in your backyard, up to your property line, and how that would change your identity and use of that property.”

 

People coming in

Other area officials, activists and residents voiced their support for the CommonBond building to the council.

Roseville Area School Board Chair Kitty Gogins said the building would meet the needs identified in various city plans and would enable the city’s seniors to age in place. 

Representatives from the Roseville Area League of Women Voters also backed the plans, as did current and former health and human services workers.

In his support of the complex, resident Randy Neprash touched on what Groff would say to back up his vote of approval.

“I would suggest the city is never going to see a better developer come to you with a proposal for this type of housing,” said Neprash. He added, “If the city is not going to approve this proposal, what proposal will ever be approved?”

In explaining why he’d be voting against the needed map and zoning changes for the building, Willmus said the city just hadn’t put enough thought into putting high-density housing into Roseville’s northeast corner.

He said he’d want a broader conversation than what had happened around the decision to rezone. “There’s not a grocery store within a mile of this location. Things like that give me a little bit of pause.”

Laliberte shared her council colleague’s concerns.

“This is really being very reactive and isn’t as proactive and forward planning” as it should be, she said. “This is about this particular area of the city where we haven’t done due diligence to determine this is the best spot.”

In explaining his vote of support, Etten said the city’s need for such housing and the site’s location on a major road made it an easy call; Roe echoed the latter point. Etten also said it was the right thing to do.

“The people who would move in are people,” he said. “And they may live in Roseville right now, they may not live in Roseville, but they are coming and want to be part of a community also, and I hope that people will be open to that as a positive for their community in the future.”

Stockstrom said the building could be done next year. The city approval process for it will continue.

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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