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Cooperation and discussion mark Northcountry meeting

Thu, Jul 3rd, 2003
Posted in Features

On Monday, June 30, about twenty residents of Lanesboro came to the Community Center to hear and ask more about the plans of Northcounty to develop the old Lanesboro Elementary School as a housing cooperative. Margaret Lund, executive director of Northcounty Cooperative, addressed the gathering first.

Lund described and explained the concept of cooperative housing. In cooperative housing, the residents actually own shares in the corporation that then, in turn, owns the building, unlike condominiums where the owners actually own the real estate. According to Lund, this enables the housing to be more affordable since there is only one real estate transaction needed and from then on just shares in the corporation are sold. Housing cooperatives are flexible and able to provide the residents with services they need. Lund referred to a co-op that started a babysitting cooperative and another that changed their co-op into a retirement home with assisted living help when the residents aged and needed those services. As a result, they were able to remain in their homes. Lund said that originally Northcountry had looked at the school as a possible artists co-op, but decided after speaking with citizens of Lanesboro that a family cooperative would better serve the city. Lund concluded her portion of the presentation by reminding the gathering that Northcountrys purpose was to help and support the establishment of the cooperative and to help with financing, but that it did not have a property management interest.

Warren Kramer, Northcountrys Director of Housing Development, followed Lund and stressed the three items needed to continue with the project. Kramer mentioned the need for city support saying, "We cant do this without the communitys help." He went on to ask that the platted alley under the building be vacated (necessary to obtain clear title) and mentioned the need for parking for the residents of the cooperative.

Architect Chris Wegscheid of Cermak Rhoades addressed the assembly, explaining the current popularity of loft housing. Wegscheid was enthused about the large expanses of window, the height and openness of the rooms and the fabulous view available, all of which make the building very suitable for loft living spaces.

Wegscheid also presented four design schemes for the building, green space, and parking.

Scheme "A" left the currently used alley in place and had a parking lot right next to the building. With this scheme, ground floor residents would have a "wonderful" view of the parking lot right in front of their window.

Scheme "B" provided green space in front of the building, removed the school annex, and utilized diagonal parking along an alley still accessing the Bethlehem Church.

Scheme "C" did away with the alley entirely and provided parking for the building residents along Ridgeview with a neighborhood play area at the top of the bunny trail coming from Sylvan Park.

Scheme "D" also utilized Ridgeview for parking and provided a play area, but retained the alley as a gated private drive access for Bethlehem Church.

As the citizens discussed the proposed schemes, new suggestions were made. A speed bump was suggested in place of the unpopular gate in scheme "D." Bethlehem Church members voiced their opposition to church ownership of the alley/drive, commenting that maintenance and snowplowing would be an added expense. They also pointed out that tourists and other citizens use the alley as well.

Citizens concurred that the bunny trail was an attraction for people in Lanesboro and urged retaining and improving the trail. The Lanesboro School or FFA last upgraded the bunny trial about fifteen years ago.

Appealing to many in the gathering, diagonal parking along Hillcrest was suggested as a solution to the parking needs of both the cooperative building and Bethlehem Church with an additional retaining wall and a culvert installed under the diagonal parking spaces.

Diagonal offsite parking kitty-corner from the project on Hillcrest was also mentioned as a possibility. Other uses suggested for that lot which brought attention were a possible destination play area from the bunny trail or a possible cooperative gardening area for the projects residents.

Northcountry asked which scheme the Catholic Church and Bethlehem Church members liked best, noting that parking at both churches could be affected. In answer, John Brose said, "Each plan has something you could fix a little; a couple are better for the Catholic Church, but wont solve the problem for Bethlehem."

Julia Borgen spoke up saying she had been observing the members park at Bethlehem recently. Borgen had used the alley up until the last two months. Since then she has not used the alley at all and encountered no problems. She commented that she feels with proper marking, parking could be done without the alley.

Peggy Hanson added, "If the bottom line is you need a certain amount of useable parking and some good senior spaces, we dont have enough info yet to close out any options. We all need to keep an open mind and demonstrate that the parking lot can work.

Joe OConnor brought up the issue of funding, asking for more details and cost estimates. Warren Kramer answered that there are several options and strategies for funding. Kramer proffered the establishment of a planned unit development (PUD) since so many variances would be needed. He also mentioned the use of tax increment funding (TIF) since the finished project would generate more taxes ($10,000 instead of $500). Jeff Allman of Allman and Associates, an engineer, developer, and president elect of the Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission, touted the opportunity of borrowing the money needed by the city to finance the citys share and repaying with taxes from the property. Allman added that the city could use its tax-exempt borrowing ability as well.

As the meeting drew to a close, Joe OConnor asked what commitments Northcountry needed from the community. Margaret Lund responded, "Vacate the platted alley under the building." She asked for a partnership, "a give and take, a balancing of interests." Ending her comments Lund stated, "Lets find the answer and let this not go on forevernot just a continuing, festering problem."

When asked about the time frame, Kramer answered that Northcountry has a purchase agreement with Dan Anderson and they need to know if its "headed in the right direction in thirty days." Mentioning that the units are expected to go for between $100,000 and $150,000, Kramer added the city could influence the price by helping with the parking issues so they use money on the building and not parking. Kramer suggested the city have the Planning and Zoning Commission consider the project as a possible PUD to keep the project proceeding.

In a final comment, Jeff Allman encouraged the citizens of Lanesboro, saying, "These are experienced, great developers!"

A public hearing on the proposed vacation of the platted alley located adjacent to the old school building is scheduled for July 7 at 6:00 PM at City Hall.

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