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Apartment plan moves ahead in New Richmond

A proposed 47-unit apartment complex received the go-ahead from the New Richmond City Council Monday night, but not without considerable debate.

The Sand Company hopes to build Willow River Village on property behind Kwik Trip, just off Knowles Avenue. The apartment complex is expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million to construct.

The Sand Company previously approached the city about constructing a multi-family complex in the downtown district. But the developer's proposal, which would have redeveloped the site of the WeTEC building, was shot down in 2012 due to objections from neighbors.

The Sand Company, doing business as Plymouth Housing Partners, first shifted its preferred site to a location on the west end of Richmond Way. The developer then asked about commercially-zoned property near Kwik Trip.

To allow for the construction of the complex, the land would have to be rezoned R4, or multi-family residential. The rezoning request was approved on a 3-2 vote Monday.

During discussion Monday, Alderman Ron Volkert said he was hesitant to rezone highway commercial property as residential.

"I feel this is some prime highway commercial property," he said. "I really don't know if this is the right time to give it up. I think we should just wait a bit."

Alderman Jane Hanson agreed. As the community continues to grow, Hanson said it will be important for New Richmond to retain as much commercial land as it can for business prospects.

"It's right where things are happening," she said of the proposed site for the apartment building.

But three aldermen - Jim Zajkowski, Craig Kittel and Roberta Dale-Wozniak - all disagreed, they noted that the suggested site is not directly on the highway and the land is not a prime location for a future business.

Zajkowski said the council is trying to grow the community's tax base and the apartment plan was a good use for that land.

"We shouldn't turn this opportunity down," he said.

As long as the city worked with the developer to improve pedestrian access on and around the site, Kittel said he would vote in favor of the apartment plan. He noted that multi-family housing seemed to be a good use for the land.

"It's got a residential feel to it," he said.

Dale-Wozniak said she, along with other city officials, visited an apartment complex in the Twin Cities that the Sand Company constructed and everyone was very impressed. She said she favored moving ahead with the project.

The rezoning request was approved, with Zajkowski, Kittel and Dale-Wozniak voting in favor and Volkert and Hanson voting against.

Later in the meeting, the council also approved an incentive package for the Sand Company's project. Because the proposal was received prior to the expiration of the city's "Land Rush" program, the developer will save about $316,707 in sewer access charges and impact fees that New Richmond will waive. The Sand Company will also have access to a $50,000 low-interest loan through New Richmond Utilities and WPPI Energy. The incentive package offered to the company also includes $10,000 to $20,000 in design assistance and energy efficiency incentives.

The package was approved by the same 3-2 vote.