After weighing its options on 5-acre site east of Coborn’s, the city of Ramsey has decided to negotiate with owners of a proposed day care center who want to purchase a 1-acre portion of this city-owned property.
Ramsey had the opportunity to sell all 5 acres to Dominium Apartments in the summer of 2014. But with the Ramsey City Council hearing questions from residents about when more shops and restaurants would be developed as two other apartment developments were being moved forward, the council tabled a decision.
The city also felt Dominium’s public subsidy request was too high and the property was not zoned for a residential development.
Dominium came back in July 2014 with a proposal to only buy the east half of the property so it could build a 130- to 140-unit apartment building for seniors. The city could have then marketed the western half closest to Coborn’s to another buyer.
But the council still had underlying concerns of selling property once slated for commercial and said it wanted to take another look at The COR’s master plan, which is a process the city is still going through today.
Within the last couple of months, a new buyer emerged.
Andover residents Michael and Kristine Johnson want to open Stone Brook Academy, a day care with the capacity for 140 children. The 10,000-square-foot building would include classrooms, a kitchen, lunchroom and indoor and outdoor play areas.
Michael Johnson pitched the city on the idea of this being one of the catalysts to attract some more commercial development to The COR because there would be more families with a reason to drive through.
“We’ve got families going back and forth to pick up supper, pick up lunch, pick up the kids, pick up sporting equipment. You name it,” he said.
The Johnsons, who are former Ramsey residents, want to be in The COR and said they looked at multiple sites and this site just east of Coborn’s is the best fit.
While there was genuine support for the concept, the council, Ramsey Economic Development Authority and Ramsey Planning Commission each spent two meetings debating whether this was the right location for a day care and if it was worth selling only 1-acre, creating remnant property.
As staff begin negotiating with the Johnsons, Council Member John LeTourneu does not want anyone to forget that the city will be left with two remnant properties.
There would be 3 acres just west of the proposed day care that is along Zeolite Street and east of the day care would be a half-acre remnant parcel.
According to Patrick Brama, economic development manager for the city of Ramsey, a storm water line was installed under an easement for a future road between Sunwood Drive and Veterans Drive. Paved surfaces or landscaping is the only thing that could be put above the storm water line, which is situated between the half-acre lot and the 1-acre lot that the Johnsons want to buy.
Brama said the preliminary estimate is this new road between Sunwood Drive and Veterans Drive could cost $280,000 to construct. The council told Brama that it not only wants to see this road, but it would also be important for there to be a driveway to the 3-acre remnant property so there is the possibility for shared parking between the different businesses.
When CommonBond’s Sunwood Village apartment was built to the east, it didn’t need this half-acre when it bought land from the city in 2015.
“I understand there’s some risk with having those (remnant pieces) there,” LeTourneau said. “We have to have some thoughtful conversations about the cost of how those remnant pieces are going to affect our overall return.”
Council Member Kristine Williams said it’s important that the city does not end up with property that cannot be used.
When the Planning Commission was asking what could be built on the half-acre, Brama said it could fit a small retail or office building.
Patrick Surma was the only planning commissioner to vote against a recommendation to the council that the city begin negotiating with Stone Brook. He would have preferred to see the city hold onto the almost 5-acre property.
The Planning Commission also wrestled with whether the programming being offered would essentially make Stone Brook Academy a pre-school. Schools are not allowed in this area of The COR, but day cares centers are. The city determined Stone Brook’s plan meets the definition of day care.
Council Member Mark Kuzma said he still had some reservations because he thinks this is a prime piece of property, but said he likes the concept and can get behind the location that almost everyone has agreed can work.
“I don’t know if it’s in my mind the type of retail that we were looking to do, but I really appreciate our commission’s input and with them being in general support of it I’m comfortable with that as well,” Kuzma said.