New Lowry Grove development planning presented at community meeting


Solomon Gustavo • A participant at the Nov. 27 Lowry Grove development open house at St. Anthony Village High School asks a question about affordable housing nonprofit orginization Aeon. St. Anthony City Council members Hal Gray and Jan Jenson stand and listen on.

courtesy of Kaas Wilson Architects • An artist’s rendering of one of the residential buildings in the latest Lowry Grove development plan.

courtesy of Kaas Wilson Architects • The site of the former Lowry Grove mobile home park is owned by The Village, LLC. After a false start with the St. Anthony City Council earlier this year, The Village presented early reworked planning for development at the site during a well-attended St. Anthony community meeting on Nov. 27.

The Village, LLC, which owns the Lowry Grove site, has regrouped since its development proposal was rejected by the St. Anthony City Council in October. 

Equipped with a new, preliminary plan, The Village’s presentation team, including attorney Mike Mergens of EntrePartner Law Firm and architect Link Wilson of Kaas Wilson Architects, unveiled a revised development proposal for the site of the former mobile home park to a well-attended community open house Nov. 27 at St. Anthony Village High School.

 

Dollars and dense

The St. Anthony council unanimously voted down The Village’s first Lowry Grove proposal at its Oct. 10 meeting. St. Anthony city staff recommended rejecting the plan over the same concerns about density expressed by residents during prior community and council meetings.

Down from 700 units, the new plan presented Nov. 27 has 466 units. That’s just fewer than 28 units per acre, and during the presentation, Wilson drew a red line, saying the unit-per-acre threshold will not exceed 28. 

Another major concern expressed in previous community meetings is affordable housing. 

In a Nov. 29 statement, The Village Vice President Traci Tomas said the makeup of units has not yet “been fully worked out at this point.” Units will be designated for senior, market-rate and affordable housing. Exactly how many units of each there will be is unclear.

“[The] deeply affordable housing outlined in our original plans is no longer economically feasible,” said Tomas.

The slide titled “Affodable Housing” in the preliminary presentation on Nov. 27 was completely blank, but presenters did announce The Village’s plan for 51 affordable housing units. That’s down from 97 in a previous plan. Wilson said the developer will make affordable housing considerations in three of the four planned housing buildings.

 

No sign of Aeon

Aeon, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit affordable housing developer, was involved with The Village in affordable housing planning for the proposal rejected by the St. Anthony council in October. Aeon was not affiliated with the new plan presentation.

Aeon first became involved with the Lowry Grove redevelopment when the organization united with residents who’d been told they had to leave mobile home park upon its sale, to try and buy the land. The group took advantage of a little-used Minnesota statute granting mobile park residents the right of first refusal when a buyer makes a bid for a park. 

The Village offered $6 million. Aeon and the residents matched the offer, though nevertheless, the land was sold to The Village. Subsequent lawsuits over the sale failed.

Those residents did some regrouping themseleves. Teaming up with Aeon once more, they sued The Village for how it acquired Lowry Grove, and that lawsuit was settled.

The settlement had a clause agreeing to allow Aeon to buy two acres of the project site for creating affordable housing, if the plan was approved by the St. Anthony council. 

Aeon’s affordable housing ambition for the new Lowry Grove development was to match the number of affordable units available before the sale, which was 110. But the clause and those goals were predicated on the the overall plan getting past the St. Anthony council. 

With the rejection of the first plan went any obligation to Aeon’s affordable housing plans. 

“Aeon’s involvement was based on the settlement agreement which fell apart when the City denied the original development plans,” Tomas said. “The Village, Aeon and the former residents agreed that litigation was not in anyone’s best interest and all claims have been dismissed.”

Former mobile park residents might have the option of moving back to Lowry Grove. After the proposal rejection in October, The Village put up a sign advertising the return of mobile park rentals, though its unclear how that works with other development plans.

 

‘They never quite tell us the truth’

Some in attendance of the community meeting Nov. 27 were not aware of Aeon no longer being a part of affordable housing planning. 

The meeting filled up quickly, causing school staffers to grab extra chairs. Presenters Wilson and Mergens detailed their preliminary plan, then opened the floor for questions.  

Those in attendance raised concerns about prioritizing senior housing as much as affordable housing, affordable units being big enough for families, construction length and noise, and how seniors will handle walking by or through construction sites.

The crowd applauded after a question was asked about Aeon. Wilson said that all he can talk about are early plans for affordable housing, and not Aeon. 

The woman who asked the question said the community has a right to know — Mergens said the community has no such right. He said dealings between Aeon and The Village, two private entities, are not public. 

“They never quite tell us the truth,” resident Mike Gondek said in an interview, referring to The Village. 

Gondek, a St. Charles Borromeo alum who’s lived on St. Anthony Boulevard for over 15 years, not far from the Lowry Grove site, said he doesn’t know what to make of the developer kicking people out of the mobile home park and then potentially reopening it.

Overall, though, Gondek said he sees progress in The Village’s Lowry Grove planning. 

“There are still some loose ends, but they made a giant step in the right direction,” he said.

Steve Dehler, a St. Anthony resident since 2008, was also in attendance. He said the updated development plans are acceptable.

 

What’s next

Following the Nov. 27 meeting, Mergens said adding that multiple rounds of planning and council votes can be expected. He said the community meeting was satisfactory and will help in forming a plan. 

Kaas Wilson Architects senior project manager Mindy Michael said that the majority of the plan, around 80 percent, has three to four more weeks of engineering work to go.

Michael said the project group hopes to have the engineering and other planning work done by January. After it’s done, The Village will take its plans to the St. Anthony Planning Commission.


Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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