Monticello Council, planning commissioners discuss multi-family apartment complex at workshop

After a recent brouhaha over a proposed rezoning and comprehensive plan amendment to allow for a higher-end multi-family apartment complex on the east side of Monticello, city leaders decided to sit down and determine possible locations for this type of development should the opportunity present itself again.
The city would zone a higher-end multi-family unit differently than the standard R-3 zone for multi-family housing, which has ‘relatively nominal’ zoning requirements, said Northwest Associated Consultants Principal Stephen Grittman, the city’s community planner. There are currently no areas in the city zoned R-4, and Grittman proposed several locations for an R-4 zone to planning commissioners and council members at a special meeting Nov. 25.
Grittman said a higher end multi-family unit, such as the apartment development proposed earlier this year by IRET on the east side of town, would receive an R-4 label which requires additional set-backs, more open space and increased architectural stipulations. When looking for a potential R-4 zone, city leaders are seeking an area that would have complementary neighboring land uses, without having too much other high-density housing in one area.
They also looked for land parcels that would have easy access to the interstate, commercial businesses and community amenities, as prospective developers will seek when selecting a site, and they also look for a location on a roadway that could handle the increased traffic capacity.
Site locations that Grittman brought up as possibilities included W. County Highway 39 and Country Club Road, along E. Seventh Street, Interstate 94, the County Highway 19 and Meadow Oak Avenue area, the southeast side of Highway 25 near Dundas Road, along Chelsea Road in front of the Groveland addition and south of town off Highway 106. None of the special workshop suggestions received a final up or down vote at the meeting; Grittman said his intent was to generate discussion and allow leaders to voice their opinions on where an R-4 multi-family development would fit in to the community.
Of the options brought up, city council members and planning commissioners seemed most amenable to three parcels: Chelsea Road, I-94/County Road 18/Meadow Oak Drive and County Highway 39/Country Club Road. They liked many aspects of the Chelsea Road. option and felt it would be a good buffer between the residential neighborhood and commercial businesses on the north side of Chelsea. However, they seemed wary of the strong possibility of heated dissent for such a project from Groveland residents.
The parcel along I-94/CSAH 18/Meadow Oak Drive piqued city leaders’ attention because of its easy access to I-94 and commercial amenities, plus Councilmember Brian Stumpf pointed out that it would serve as a good buffer between single family residential and I-94. Others pointed out that there is no other multi-family housing in the area and others wondered if it was too visible from the interstate, but Herbst said that the exterior of any R-4 development would be visually pleasing, and he brought up other cities, such as Plymouth, that have nicer apartment complexes along I-94.
The County Highway 39/Country Club Drive site was deemed an imperfect, yet potentially workable location for R-4 development. City leaders liked how residents of the development could access commercial amenities and the interstate via Chelsea Rd, and noted its close proximity to Bertram Chain of Lakes. They also liked how there is other high-density housing in the area but not an overabundance of it, but they also noted that the parcel is adjacent to single family housing and not the most ideal to access I-94.
Some of Grittmans’ proposals got more negative feedback, though nothing was completely ruled out. Councilmembers and commissioners didn’t like the Dundas Road location because they felt this would take up otherwise prime commercial space. They also thought the parcel along E. Seventh Stree has a current overabundance of multi-family housing in the area. Mayor Clint Herbst said he didn’t feel a developer of a higher-end complex would seek to build in an area with so much R-3 housing.
City leaders also felt the parcel off County 106 would be unlikely to attract developers of this sort, at least until more development takes place south of town in future years.
“The main thing is I think there is a willingness to locate this,” Herbst said. “What we want to make sure is that we don’t have a reputation where people are coming in and spending a lot of time and effort on a zone, but then not be willing to rezone it. I think this is good that we at least sat down and identified some areas with good potential.”
The council and planning commission discussed whether land areas should be re-zoned in advance or if that should be done on a case-by-case basis once a developer steps forward. The general consensus was to leave zoning as-is and to instead use the list of prospective sites to guide interested developers toward a property that both parties can agree on. City leaders felt this route would give them more control over what is going in and where. The negative side of waiting to rezone is the increased risk for developers, as they would need to go through re-zoning approval and changes to the city’s comprehensive plan before moving forward.
Grittman said he would take this information back to staff level, have the potential sites ranked according to council feedback and bring a clearer list back to the planning commission at a later date.
Angela Schumann, community development director, stated in her Dec. 2 Monticello Planning Commission report that the Nov. 25 meeting confirmed that both the current planning commission and council are committed to the inclusion of an R-4 District within the city zoning ordinance, thereby creating the opportunity for multi-family housing within the community.
The Nov. 25 workshop helped establish a draft set of criteria or factors which make a site a more likely candidate for R-4 zoning, outlined a preliminary understanding of which factors from above may be most important to rezoning decisions and confirmed that the consensus is not to rezone property by city application or action at this time.
Commissioners and council members agreed the ability to direct or provide applicants with criteria and possible locations is preferred and that rezoning requests should come from property owners and/or applicants.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller also covers education and the Monticello School District.