Updated Riverwalk plan goes to Coon Rapids Council

A six-month process to update the master plan for Port Riverwalk on Coon Rapids Boulevard is nearing an end.

The Coon Rapids City Council at its Wednesday, Nov. 6 meeting (the normal council meeting date Tuesday, Nov. 5 is election day) will be asked to approve the preliminary and final port master plans as well as an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan incorporating the master plan changes.

The Coon Rapids Planning Commission Oct. 17 recommended the actions following a public hearing at which no one spoke.

Port Riverwalk lies north and south of Coon Rapids Boulevard from Egret Boulevard to East River Road.

The city used funds from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grant to update the Port Riverwalk master plan.

The study was led by Stantec, a consultant who completed planning, environmental and engineering work for the master plan update, and a steering committee comprising two planning commission members, neighborhood residents and nearby business and property owners.

According to Matt Brown, city community development specialist, there was also a policy advisory committee with two city councilmembers, the city manager and the planning commission chairperson involved in the planning process.

As well, city staff and the consultant interviewed four developers and real estate experts to get insight on Port Riverwalk’s strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace, Brown wrote in a report to the commission.

The master plan establishes “future land uses and relationships, traffic circulation, pedestrian systems and examples of building types,” he wrote.

Prior to developing the updated master plan, Stantec completed a market study for the entire Coon Rapids Boulevard corridor.

Major conclusions of the market analysis for Port Riverwalk are:

• While the corridor has the spending power to support another 68,000 square feet of retail space by 2020, Port Riverwalk is not well positioned compared with other sites for retail with the exception of a small amount of convenience retail.

• Port Riverwalk does not have the accessibility and visibility to attract major office users.

• Existing rent rates in the trade area are relatively low, making it challenging to support construction of new rental housing, but it is estimated the corridor could support up to 80 market rate rental units and 270 affordable rental units through 2020.

• The corridor could support senior housing in the form of 150-175 independent living senior units, 50-70 assisted living units and 25-35 memory care units through 2020.

• Demand for condominiums and townhouses is currently weak, but will come back in the long term.

According to Brown, the updated Port Riverwalk master plan “focuses on improving connections among recreational amenities to maximize demand for new development.”

There are several natural amenities close to Port Riverwalk, including the Mississippi River (Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park), Coon Creek Trail and Al Flynn Park, but the area has poor access and connections to them, Brown said.

“This limits the value the redevelopment sites realize from the amenities,” he wrote in the report.

By focusing on “incremental infrastructure projects,” the master plan will enhance market demand for development and entice private investment, according to Brown.

Major plan elements and recommendations include:

• Develop an on-street bikeway or trail connection along Egret between the regional park and the boulevard.

• Improve the Clay Hole to function as an amenity for area residents, including clearing scrub and providing pedestrian access, then develop a long-term plan for incremental improvements to the Clay Hole.

• Construct a parkway or green corridor parallel to Coon Rapids Boulevard between Egret and Avocet Street to include pedestrian and bicycle facilities and replacement of the existing frontage road on the south side of the boulevard.

• Enhance the pedestrian and bicycle environment at the intersection of Avocet and the boulevard.

• In the long term, construct a “backage” road on the north side of the boulevard connection Egret to Avocet near Al Flynn Park.

• Market the 31 acres of city-owned vacant property, which includes the former Coon Rapids Shopping Center site, on south of the boulevard for primarily residential development with higher density projects along the boulevard and more moderate density housing at the south and east ends.

• Residential development is also envisioned on the north side of the boulevard.

• Small scale commercial development may be appropriate on either the northeast or southeast corner of Coon Rapids and Egret boulevards.

After Port Riverwalk was created in 2002 and the city acquired the 31 acres south of the boulevard and completed a cleanup of soil contamination, a large residential development was proposed by Rottlund Homes

In 2006, the council approved 240 townhomes and a 60-unit senior condominium building, but the project never got off the ground when the housing market soured and the approved site plan lapsed in 2007.

Rottlund Homes has since gone out of business.

In 2008, the Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which comprises the seven members of the council, negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Shamrock Development, which had been the development partner with Rottlund.

But with the country in a major recession the time frame for Shamrock Development to complete a master plan for the site was postponed, Brown said.

However, the memorandum of understanding with Shamrock remains in place and once the council approves the updated master plan, it will have the opportunity to present a master plan for development of the 31 acres within 60 days.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]