Future of old Ramsey city hall up for debate

The city of Ramsey continues to contemplate whether a data center would be the best use of the former municipal center property, but neighbors are already convinced they do not want to live next to this large development.

Elk River has two large data centers in its community, including Target’s 161,300 square-foot facility shown here. A data center is one development option for Ramsey’s old municipal center site at 15153 Nowthen Blvd., but no decision has been made by the Ramsey City Council on whether to ask the Metropolitan Council for a comprehensive plan amendment to allow the data center or 47 single-family homes.

Elk River has two large data centers in its community, including Target’s 161,300 square-foot facility shown here. A data center is one development option for Ramsey’s old municipal center site at 15153 Nowthen Blvd., but no decision has been made by the Ramsey City Council on whether to ask the Metropolitan Council for a comprehensive plan amendment to allow the data center or 47 single-family homes. Courtesy of city of Elk River

Data centers are used to store a large amount of computer systems and servers in a consolidated location for companies. Two large data centers are located in Elk River. Target has 161,300 square feet and UnitedHealth Group’s facility is 185,000 square feet.

Ramsey city staff estimate the facility could hold a maximum 195,000 square feet in either one or two buildings. The Ramsey Municipal Center footprint is about 55,000 square feet, but is taller than a data center would be, according to Patrick Brama, assistant to the city administrator.

Neighbors are concerned about noise from the air conditioner units and backup generators needed to cool and power a building holding so much electronic equipment, traffic losing a tree buffer and the large facility being an eyesore in general.

“I don’t want that in my back yard,” said Donna McClain and shared by all neighbors.

The city has a stake in this discussion because it owns the 21.24-acre site at 15153 Nowthen Blvd. It is presently the location of Fire Station No. 2 and some storage. Before 2006, the municipal center was here and the city has been looking at selling the land and building a new Fire Station No. 2 at a site to the northeast ever since, according to Brama.

If not a data center, another city option the residents prefer is 47 new single-family homes.

The Ramsey City Council was aware of the neighborhood’s wishes even before the item appeared on the June 11 council agenda because the city received a lot of comments at an April open house. What the council is now considering is whether to file a comprehensive plan amendment application with the Metropolitan Council to make a data center or more residential possible on the property, which is currently zoned public/quasi-public.

According to Brama, the site would be designated as a planned unit development land use specifically for a data center if that is the route the council chooses.

Support for the comprehensive plan amendment application does not indicate support for a data center, Brama said.

Even if the Metropolitan Council agrees with the comprehensive plan amendment, there would still be a public hearing at a Ramsey Planning Commission before the council could vote, he said.

The city would then need to market the site. Brian Burandt, Connexus Energy business and community relations manager, said it wants to attract development to Ramsey and a data center at this site was an option that came up.

Some councilmembers want more meetings with residents to continue uncovering the facts about a data center rather than rely on perception and stories people have read on the Internet.

“I’ve gone through these neighborhood issues just as you guys have and I know how emotional it can get,” Councilmember Randy Backous said. “These are your homes and where your kids are growing up, but we also have to answer to 24,000 other people and we have to treat this like judges in my opinion. We have to get these facts and take all the emotion out of it.”

Councilmember Jason Tossey already has his mind made up that he would not support a data center because the neighbors oppose it. He said housing is the best option.

Tossey was the only one of the six voting members of the council who opposed tabling this item so city staff could figure out how many additional community meetings are needed and whether its own staff or a third-party consultant should lead these.

“I understand that possibly some day a data center could bring all this tax base, but so could Ramsey Town Center and that’s not happening,” Tossey said.

Backous said he was not sure whether he would be for or against a data center, but he would want more facts to back him up if residents elsewhere in the community questioned why the city would say no to a higher tax base.

According to Brama, the city alone could receive around $120,000 in tax revenue from a data center or a little under $30,000 for a 47 single-family home development. Other taxing authorities such as Anoka County and Anoka-Hennepin School District would also benefit from having a data center in Ramsey, Brama said.

The estimated market value of the entire data center project including land and the facility would be in the neighborhood of $23 million or $24 million while the residential market value would be approximately $7.6 million, he said.

Steve Liekhus has lived in the same house on Helium Street for 26 years and thus saw the area before it was heavily developed. An area north of 153rd Avenue close to him used to be popular with the four-wheelers, but now is packed with homes. He does not want to see the data center move in.

Kent Cunningham would see the data center from his kitchen window. He and Liekhus said they would support additional meetings between the city and public, but Cunningham cautioned that any decision will have long-term consequences.

McClain hopes the city will not just consider its bottom line because she and other residents feel it would affect their property values.

Although the League of Minnesota Cities and the Ramsey City Attorney said most case law indicates the conclusion that a data center would lower neighboring home values is subjective and unclear, McClain imagines it would turn away some potential buyers.

Alison Perry counted 32 children under the age of seven in the neighborhood and said the residents hang out all the time. They invited the council to a barbecue so they could get to know the people, who she called her best friends.

“What I’m fearing of the data center is you’re threatening our little slice of heaven,” she said.

Mayor Sarah Strommen said she enjoyed her visit to the neighborhood during a Night to Unite block party and wanted to assure the residents that the council is listening to their concerns, but it must balance this against the needs of the community.

“The future of our city and financial stability rests on growing a strong tax base,” she said.

City Administrator Kurt Ulrich told the council that it has plenty of time to consider the options.

Brama said the council in early July will further discuss how the public meetings will be organized, who will lead it and the timing.

“We have the luxury of time,” Ulrich said. “We don’t have a developer pushing us. We can be very deliberate about the planning for this site.”

 

Eric Hagen is at
eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

 
  • Tim

    A few years ago the city council told us all that this building needed 4 million in hvac repairs. Huh! This being spun to get support for a 20 million dollar city hall with no community center (although it does have a holding cell 3 minutes away from the county jail). So did they spend the 4 mil? Can the fire department stand the hot summers and freezing winters? Typical of the home of “Happy Days”!

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