Blaine apartment phasing, service road

A service road and the development timeline are two concerns the Blaine City Council has with a proposed apartment complex near the intersection of Ulysses Street and 126th Avenue.

The council at a May 1 workshop directed City Engineer Jean Keely to evaluate a realigned Ulysses Street near this site. Kason, Inc., of Forest Lake, is proposing to construct 141-unit Emberwood Apartments.

Councilmember Kathy Kolb said she drives on this service road all the time. She called it a “treacherous” corner because Ulysses Street has a sharp curve near 126th Avenue. Access to businesses, such as Perkins, is also nearby.

“That corner will not withstand that many units,” Kolb said. “The only way a multi-unit building could go in there is if you would cut that road from almost a right angle and angle it across so it was a more gentle curve. Otherwise it will not work.”

Russ Herbst, who also represents Ward 3, also said the road is his biggest concern.

Although there is another sharp curve on Ulysses Street just south of 129th Avenue, the area around that curve is fully developed so the council asked Keely to only study the curve by just north of 125th Avenue.

The Blaine Planning Commission March 11 unanimously recommended denial of Kason’s proposal after hearing concerns from neighbors about this service road.

Mayor Tom Ryan said to him it is “a must” that a Ulysses Street improvement be done before any new apartment buildings are built on this site.

However, the council made it clear that Kason should not have to bear the full burden of selling right-of-way to the city to reduce the curve near the Ulysses Street and 126th Lane intersection.

Councilmember Dave Clark said the road design is “a city issue and we need to resolve that.”

Blaine Planning and Community Development Director BryanSchafer said the zoning was put in place in 2003 when another developer received council approval for a 152-unit senior home that was never built. An adjacent site zoned commercial at the time is part of Kason’s site, but will need to be rezoned to allow high-density housing. Kason’s entire property is 7 acres.

The Main Street interchange and two adjacent overpasses had not been constructed by 2003. This changes made Highway 65 direct access more limited and forces more traffic onto the Ulysses Street service road. Clark noted this timeline and stated concerns about traffic congestion from this new development and whether high-density residential still made sense here.

Ryan said, “It’s not the point where you do a comprehensive plan change in the middle after somebody owns the property.”

Building quality

The planning commission also raised a concern about the quality of this development.

Ed Kaeding, founder of Kason, Inc., gave the council an overview of the proposal at its May 1 workshop meeting.

Schafer told the council that Kason had always met the requirements of the city’s Highway 65 Overlay District in terms of the materials it would use for the building exterior. The concern from staff was the building architecture and he said Kason has made “significant strides in addressing the outside of the building from an architecture standpoint.”

Schafer said city staff’s biggest issue was the project phasing and the quality of the interior design of the buildings. He said Kason has made upgrades to the interior building materials and thus has higher estimated rental prices.

“Our concern was it was a project aimed to compete with 30-year-old apartments in Blaine, and that didn’t make sense to us,” Schafer said. “I think from a building quality standpoint, I don’t know that we’re 100 percent there, but we’re a lot farther than we were before the planning commission.”

Kaeding told the council he is only able to finance construction for one building at a time. His plan was to first break ground on a 50-unit building , followed by the next two buildings when financing became available. Plans are for one building a year.

The council asked Kason to consider two apartment buildings that could still have around the same number of units as the three-building proposal, but just be individually larger.

Schafer said a three-phase project is less cost-effective and can impact neighbors.

Ryan asked Kaeding if it would be acceptable for them to construct two buildings rather than three.

“We could look at that, if that is going to make everyone’s life easier” Kaeding said. “It is going to be much more difficult for us.”

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]