West St. Paul approves land use change for possible new senior facility


courtesy of City of West St. Paul • The proposed location of a new independent senior living building at Wentworth Avenue and Marthaler Lane is by Walmart in West St. Paul. The area was classified for industrial use but will be reclassified to mixed-use should plans for the development proceed.

Project raises questions about accessibility in the city.

A possible new senior living facility in West St. Paul passed its first test May 29 when the city council approved an amendment that would reclassify the land use for 1631/1645 Marthaler Lane.

The council approved an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan, which is contingent upon other items relating to the project being approved later on.

Jim Hartshorn, community development director, said based on previous discussions at the March 26 Economic Development Authority meeting, a developer had expressed interest in redeveloping the two properties on Marthaler Lane to include a new independent senior living complex.

An initial step in the process is reclassifying the two parcels’ land uses from industrial to mixed use. 

“In order to properly guide the property to match the proposed use and the surrounding areas to the north, staff is recommending the land use map be amended to reassign the property as mixed-use,” Hartshorn said.

He said city staffers feel the proposed amendment would be in “harmony” with surrounding uses, while allowing for existing office use in the area to continue.

While the Planning Commission did vote 6-0 to approve the comprehensive plan amendment, Hartshorn said there was some concern the reclassification would take away industrial space in the city.

Mayor Jenny Halverson said she had heard from more than one Planning Commission member who wished they had changed their vote. 

Council member Anthony Fernandez said spaces in the city are going to have to be repurposed for new uses, and the site in question is a prime example. 

Fernandez added there is an affordable housing component to the plans, which is something he especially backs for seniors. 

“I appreciate the fact that we are able to have that use in our community,” he said.  

 

Accessibility concerns

Maria Franzmeier, who was appointed to the planning commission in April, said at the May 29 meeting she doesn’t feel the proposed senior housing is a good idea for that location. 

She said while senior living and affordable housing are both great things, she doesn’t think this property is the right area to put it, saying she was concerned about accessibility to sidewalks and congestion in the area.

Patrick Ostrom, who works for Real Estate Equities, the developer, said since the Planning Commission meeting the developer has submitted a full site plan review and approval request, which will get brought to the commission and then the council to work through some of the details Franzmeier brought up. 

“We do feel strongly this is a great location due to the demand for senior housing, specifically affordable senior housing,” Ostrom said, adding the location is close to many amenities. 

Franzmeier asked if it would fall on the city to re-evaluate things like accessibility to bus routes.

Council member Dick Vitelli said it would be up to the city to get sidewalks in, and meet with the Metropolitan Council for bus stops. 

Fernandez said the city is “behind the game” in accessibility and asked what the timeline is for work on nearby Wentworth Avenue. 

Ross Beckwith, city engineer, said that area, which is a county road, is slated for construction in 2019. Beckwith said with the work the county is planning on doing, it would look at ADA requirements, but no new trails would necessarily be added.  

Halverson said this is the reason she has been lobbying for bike and pedestrian improvements for nearly six years.

“We need this type of infrastructure already in place to accommodate these types of developments,” she said. 

Bill Bisanz, who also works with the developer, said while he appreciates the hard questions, he wanted to remind people about the acute need for the proposed type of housing. He said it would provide a high-quality housing option for seniors who want to remain in West St. Paul.

Halverson said she would look to the council for a promise to add bike and pedestrian infrastructure along Wentworth Avenue, from Robert Street to Oakdale Avenue to accommodate the development, saying it would resolve a lot of the issues that were being brought up.

Council member Dave Napier said he agrees with the need for pedestrian connections. He said he would hope this is a priority, from the developer’s standpoint, to figure out how it can be connected. 

“If that challenges the county, as it’s their road, and challenges this council to do so, I think that’s important. Connecting everything in our city has been important to some of us. It needs to stay a priority,” Napier said. 

Ostrom said the developer is working with the county and neighboring Walmart to start conversations on infrastructure, and work on how they can help to extend sidewalks and accessibility.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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