Ramsey looking at development opportunities at three sites

Developing The COR is a high priority for the city of Ramsey, but the city is looking at facilitating development opportunities elsewhere in the community to improve its tax base.

The city of Ramsey hosted an open house Sept. 26 to seek neighborhood input on redevelopment possibilities for existing retail center at the corner of 167th Avenue and St. Francis Boulevard. Submitted photo

The city of Ramsey hosted an open house Sept. 26 to seek neighborhood input on redevelopment possibilities for existing retail center at the corner of 167th Avenue and St. Francis Boulevard. Submitted photo

“It’s important to achieve a balance of residential, commercial and industrial uses throughout the city to promote a strong tax base and vibrant neighborhoods,” Mayor Sarah Strommen said.

During a joint meeting between the Ramsey City Council and the city’s planning commission and economic development authority, Development Services Manager Tim Gladhill gave brief overviews of three areas where the city is evaluating land uses but has no specific development options lined up.

The property with the most public debate has been 15153 Nowthen Blvd., which is the home of the former municipal center and where Fire Station No. 2 currently resides. One potential use is a data center.

Residents near the intersection of 167th Avenue and St. Francis Boulevard came out to an open house at city hall Sept. 26 to give their opinions in an informal setting on how this area could redevelop.

An approximately 90-acre property on the north side of Highway 10 and west of Armstrong Boulevard is currently zoned for residential and retail, but the city may be interested in a business park at this location and the property owner is willing to work with the city, according to Patrick Brama, assistant to the city administrator.

Gladhill said an open house on this project could be held in late November.

Ralph Brauer, member of the planning commission, applauded the council for having these meetings to seek resident input in this format.

“If people know they’re going to be listened to, more will start coming,” said Brauer.

Joe Field, member of the planning commission and chairperson of the charter commission, said it will be important for the city to explain its reasoning when making a decision on these developments so that people know their points of view were considered.

Old municipal center site

Since residents packed the council chambers this summer to voice their opinions on a potential data center development at the old municipal center site at the southeast corner of Nowthen Boulevard and Alpine Drive, the council has appointed 16 people to a study group that will evaluate all options over the course of four to six meetings from November to January that would be open to the public.

“Although a study group consisting of seven to 10 participants would be an ideal size for the proposed process, staff believes 16 participants is manageable and will still be productive,” Brama said.

Brama and Gladhill will facilitate the meeting, but the 13 residents who mostly live near the site would set the agenda. A councilmember, planning commissioner and economic development authority member would also be part of the 16-member study group.

Neighbors have said they prefer more residential development and not a data center, but Brama said that was to be expected because change is difficult. While a data center may end up not being the best solution, the study group will be asked to objectively look at the facts and not just immediately discount it, he said.

“The purpose of the study group is to consider under what circumstances would a data center development be an appropriate land use,” Brama said.

167th/St. Francis Boulevard

The city has been evaluating options for redevelopment in this area since 2004, according to Gladhill, who said the city is reviewing acceptable land use and zoning changes as well as the feasibility of future sewer line extensions, but stressed there is much more research to be done and the city’s policy has been to encourage development by working with current property owners to identify appropriate future land uses and zoning designations.

At the corner of 167th Avenue and St. Francis Boulevard is a retail district that the city says has been struggling. It once was the home of the LeTourneau’s grocery store. Photo by Eric Hagen

At the corner of 167th Avenue and St. Francis Boulevard is a retail district that the city says has been struggling. It once was the home of the LeTourneau’s grocery store. Photo by Eric Hagen

For example, Gladhill said the city in early 2013 received two requests for a zoning amendment to allow for an indoor shooting range and a warehousing and distribution user in the former LeTourneau’s grocery store. No project moved forward.

The city does already own 16.52 acres of land south of 167th Avenue where a water tower is located.

Residents at the Sept. 26 open house spoke against having manufacturing on this property and would prefer neighborhood retail with some residential development that could include single-family homes, townhomes, apartments or senior living units, according to Gladhill.

This vision is stated in a statement of goals that the planning commission was tentatively scheduled to review Nov. 7. The EDA will look over the goals Nov. 14 before the council takes a look at it Nov. 26 and possibly puts these goals in place with a Dec. 10 vote, according to a preliminary schedule city staff put together.

Business park

Strommen said the city has a shortage of industrial park space, so the city has been evaluating potential business park locations.

“In our existing employment and business districts we’ve run out of space,” Gladhill said. “We’re getting a number of inquiries of, ‘I’d love to locate my business in Ramsey,’ but we’re struggling to find locations for them.”

The council at a Sept. 24 workshop reviewed the positives and negatives of six properties throughout the city and came to the conclusion that the property owned by Al Pearson is the best option because Pearson has shown a willingness to sell and change the zoning to allow an industrial park. The site is close to Highway 10 and other city streets and utilities.

The potential drawback that could come up during the public meeting is the site is located by the Links at Northfolk Golf Course and a neighborhood. And nearby property is tentatively slated for more homes and a new Legacy Christian Academy school, which currently has its home campus in Andover.

“Getting public input ahead of the zoning application is important. It’s going to put the council in a better position to understand what the public input is before you make any decisions moving forward,” Brama said.

Bob Bentz, environmental policy board member, asked during the joint Oct. 29 meeting if the city and county would be paying for constructing any new roads ahead of time at its own expense.

Gladhill said the city has no immediate plans to construct new roads for a potential business park. That would come later and be a responsibility of the developer to figure out how to pay for.

“This process is not about putting in new streets or realigning streets,” Gladhill said. “This process, at least at this stage, is about focusing on what the comprehensive plan states and making adjustments if necessary.”

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

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