Blaine housing project going through environmental review

Before a 135-acre housing and commercial development can move forward in Blaine, it must go through an extensive environmental review.

The Blaine City Council Aug. 7 approved submitting to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the Parkside North development being completed by Paxmar. Councilmember Russ Herbst abstained because he owns property to the north of the proposed neighborhood southeast of the intersection of Lexington and 125th avenues.

This project is anticipated to contain up to 600 housing units of varying densities and style and up to 120,000 square feet of commercial retail or office uses, according to Bryan Schafer, Blaine’s planning and community development director.

“It’s probably the last of the large developments we’ll see come through the city … since most of the remaining parcels have been sectioned off and will likely be smaller,” Schafer said.

Schafer said the environmental assessment is necessary because of the size of Paxmar’s project, which he said the developer expects to phase in a three to five-year period, potentially starting this winter. Paxmar has been working with city staff and consultants on this since last fall. They found some rare and endangered plants this past spring, according to Schafer.

What the council’s submittal of this document does is kick off a review process that will last from Aug. 18 to Sept. 17. The public access the worksheet at www.ci.blaine.mn.us or a paper copy is available at Blaine City Hall, 10801 Town Square Drive, in the Planning Department.

Questions or written comments should be forwarded to Bryan Schafer at the Blaine City Hall address or 763-785-6144 or bschafer@ci.blaine.mn.us.

Wetland credits

The majority of the discussion on this development came from the Blaine Economic Development Authority with regards to selling wetland credits. The EDA comprises  all seven members of the city council and no other community representatives, but it is legally a separate entity with its own taxing authority and the ability to buy and sell land.

The city of Blaine has been undergoing a wetland restoration project on a 500-acre property once referred to as  Site 7 and now called The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary, located north of 109th Avenue and west of Lexington Avenue. For every 2 acres of wetland restored, it is able to bank one wetland credit that can be sold to developers.

Schafer said approximately 55 acres of credits will be available once the restoration project is complete at The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary. To date, the EDA has only committed 2.4 acres for use at Aquatore Park as part of a ball field replacement project.

The project is disturbing 2 acres of wetland, which on a 135-acre site “isn’t very much of an impact,” Schafer said. Paxmar is responsible for 4 acres of wetland restoration, but is able to purchase wetland credits to meet part of this requirement. Schafer said Paxmar proposed restoring two acres of wetland on this site and purchasing the other two wetland credits from the city at a value of $2 per square foot, which equals $174,420.

Schafer reminded the council that the city still owes Paxmar $1.4 million for the purchase of the 38.6-acre Lexington Athletic complex. The city purchased the site on the east side of Lexington Avenue, south of 125th Avenue, in July 2012. It paid Paxmar $800,000 and committed to reimbursing the developer $1.4 million through park dedication and sewer and water access charge credits.

Schafer said the $174,420 from the two wetland credits sale could be deducted from what the city owes Paxmar.

Councilmember Dick Swanson questioned what the city gained, because the city is still paying Paxmar $1.4 million in the end and in the meantime loses two wetland credits that could be sold to another developer.

Schafer said without the wetland credits from the city, Paxmar could have purchased the credits from someone else, or it would have needed to redesign the project to find two developable acres that could be converted to wetlands. Schafer emphasized that specific development layouts are still further down the road, but said the expected density means Paxmar could have lost six homes. This affects the city tax base.

Swanson and Councilmember Mike Bourke expressed interest that this could make road development in this property a little easier. Schafer said a connection from 125th Avenue at Lever Street looks to be one area where a lot of fill will have to be moved and thus could benefit from this wetland credit sale.

“You’re getting two more acres development by doing this,” Schafer said.

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

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