IRET presents plans for new Monticello apartments near I-94

The equity real estate investment trust company that currently owns and manages Monticello Village Apartments wants to build another large project in the city.

IRET Properties is requesting city approval of a three story, 202-unit, high-density residential housing project on a vacant 12.7 acre site near Interstate 94.

Monticello Planning Commissioners approved IRET’s rezoning, preliminary and final plat, conditional use permit and site plan requests at their Aug. 5 meeting and a key variance to move the project forward.

Community Development Director Angela Schumann said IRET’s latest apartment building request was tentatively scheduled for review by the Monticello City Council during its Aug. 25 meeting.

Planning commission members listened to a half-hour background project summary from City Planner Steve Grittman before approving IRET’s request.

Grittman said the proposed apartment location is adjacent to County Road 18 and Meadow Oak Avenue and abuts Freeway Fields, a city park.

Monticello’s new medium-high density residential district standards are designed to manifest high quality multi-family residential development near sufficient transportation networks, nearby recreational amenities, and community services such as commercial areas, medical facilities and other public institutions sufficient to accommodate anticipated housing density, Grittman said.

Multiple family housing that is developed to meet the expectations of the city’s comprehensive plan fills a market niche that is not currently available in the community, Gritman stated.

As noted in a discussion held during the consideration of a comprehensive plan amendment earlier this summer, such housing retains and or attracts both young singles and couples with higher earnings, and older adults seeking secure, but lower-maintenance, housing choices.

Considering that 202 dwelling units are being proposed upon a site which was previously planned for commercial use, impacts upon the city’s park system are expected by the propped change in land use, Grittman stated in his background memo.

One of the issues related to park dedication is the current existence of an informal parking area on the southeast corner of the property that is used to support team sports at Freeway Fields park.

City staff discussion, endorsed by Monticello park commissioners in a recommendation, centered around a partial credit to the required dedication amount, by creating an easement for public use of the easterly portion of the apartment property parking area.

“IRET’s project appears to have adequate parking to accommodate this parking without raising on-site problems” Grittman stated, adding that the city could release the easement in the future if park-related parking demand becomes unnecessary.

Grittman told commissions the new IRET project isn’t expected to create odor or noise nuisance conditions. IRET’s site plan demonstrates compliance with the required 60-foot green space setback from the Meadow Oak Avenue right-of-way which is intended to mitigate potential visual impact issues.

A clear, open space setback of 40 feet has been proposed along all other property lines, and includes appropriate landscaping meeting the city’s buffering and landscaping requirements.

Grittman said IRET has requested a variance from the minimum 900 square foot dwelling unit area requirement imposed in the R-4 zoning district.

“Based upon experience in the multiple family residential housing industry, the applicant believes a large percentage of renters will be persons age 25-35 who prefer to live alone,” Grittman stated, adding IRET believes that such a group prefers units ranging in size from 700 to 750 square feet.

“The applicant is proposing one bedroom units ranging from 664 to 823 square feet in size,” Grittman stated “IRET has proposed to provide an average dwelling unit size of 900 square feet.”

Andy Martin is a senior vice president with Investors Real Estate Trust Properties.

IRET owns and operates income-producing multi-family residential and commercial properties mostly in Minnesota and North Dakota.

The equity real estate investment trust is based in Minot, N.D. and has additional offices in Minneapolis and Omaha, Neb.

During the Aug. 5 planning commission public hearing, Martin said IRET worked closely with city staff on its latest proposal.

“We did everything possible we could with respect to the R4 ordinance as well as went over and above to preserve green space to develop a project that met the intent of your new zoning” Martin said.

He added: “The cross-easement arrangement is actually something that your park board that was something the city came back with. We were open to a land dedication.”

During the Aug. 5 public hearing, Planning Commission Chairman Brad Fyle said he didn’t have a problem with IRET’s new apartment proposal for Monticello.

“If you look at the size of the proposed variance for these apartments, and you watch the news, you find throughout the country that downsizing [as a housing trend is coming back],” Fyle said. “I think its just hitting our community now. I think [eventually] we will be re-do our minimum sizing to match up with [everybody else] is doing.”

Commissioner Sam Burvee didn’t agree with Fyle. “We set the R4 [standard] to be a luxury apartment,” Burvee said. “To allow them to go under the standard defeats the purpose. The standard is set. I don’t see why we are going away from it.  I have not heard any reason why we really need to lower it. I think we should give the standard a chance.”

Burvee added he wanted to see the city hit certain development targets, then make adjustments.

“The only thing I see with the square footage going down is the price going down,” Burvee said. “The whole idea with this was luxury apartments. That’s what I wanted to maintain.”

Commissioner Charlotte Gabler said it was time for the city to stop beating up on IRET.

“I think they’ve come back with a project that the community would be acceptable with,” Gabler said, adding: “They are willing to share a parking lot with us. They are not bothering anybody per se, it’s not in anybody’s backyard. I think I can give them a little wiggle room on the size of an apartment. The community has voiced its opinion. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we might be OK with this one.”

Martin said IRET was planning to break ground on the project next spring if it’s approved by the city council Aug. 25.

Lloyd Hilgart, city council planing commission liaison, said he supported IRET’s proposal at presented Aug. 5.

“I think that the project is quite nice,” Hilgart said. “I think you laid it out nice with a lot of amenities. You have almost triple the open space required and you are almost at 60 percent of the density you can have. You could have came in and asked for four stories and you did not.”

Prior to the planning commission approving the four different motions that were associated with IRET’s proposal, Schumann said the planning commission would be acting as a board of adjustment and appeals to approve the size variance.

Schumann said city staff recommended approval of resolutions associated to each of the motions presented, but the motion to approve the sizing variance didn’t pass unanimously.

Buvee voted to deny to deny the motion, making the final tally 4-1.

Contact Tim Hennagir at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com

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