Honda dealership proposed in Coon Rapids

Contributing Writer

A Honda auto dealership is coming to Coon Rapids.

Nate Sutton
Nate Sutton

The Coon Rapids City Council July 5 approved an amendment to the final planned unit development for Gateway Commerce Center, Highway 10 and Hanson Boulevard, creating additional land for an auto dealership site.

Nate Sutton, who has two auto dealerships (Ford and Lincoln) in suburban Chicago, and a Honda dealership in Bristol, Wisconsin,has been awarded the franchise to open a Honda dealership in the Twin Cities’ north metro area.

He opened his first dealership (Ford) in Matteson, Illinois, in 1989, his second (Lincoln) in the same building.

“The dealerships have been very successful and we are very strong in customer satisfaction and loyalty,” Sutton said.

Expanding his family business – two of his three daughters are involved in the dealerships – into the Twin Cities area is a “tremendous opportunity,” he said in an interview following the council action.

Approval of the planned unit development is the first step of the city’s planning process for the Gateway Commerce Center property. Site plan approval is also necessary from the Coon Rapids Planning Commission.

The site plan has been submitted to the city, according to Sutton.

The goal is to begin construction in late summer or early fall, Sutton said.

“We plan to be open in the third quarter of 2018,” Sutton said.

The site plan will be on the planning commission’s August meeting agenda for consideration, according to Scott Harlicker, city planner.

This is not the first time that Silverstone Realty & Development, LLC, representing Gateway Commerce Center property owner, H&W Family, LLLP, has requested a change in the planned unit development for the property.

The council amended the PUD in 2015 to include a car dealership at the far west end of the site plus a swim center on two other adjacent lots, then a year later, in June 2016, the council approved another change to the PUD expanding the car dealership to include the lots earmarked for the swim center and creating lots for a hotel, retail/restaurants and hotel/office/retail, according to Harlicker.

Walser Automotive current owns the 10 acres at the west end of Gateway Drive, but to date has not submitted a site plan to develop the site, Harlicker told the council.

Under the new PUD change, the Honda dealership will occupy the remaining 10.8 acres of vacant land on both sides of Gateway Drive with the dealership building and parking on the southeast side, next to McDonalds, with the 5.05 acres on the north side of Gateway Drive set aside for inventory storage, he said.

These lots had been identified for retail, office, restaurant and hotel uses in the 2016 PUD amendment, Harlicker said.

According to Jonathan Adam, Silverstone Realty, land users and needs have changed dramatically since the PUD was originally approved and the land uses envisioned then are no longer practical in today’s environment.

A hotel was under contract for a lot, but that fell through after it was determined that soil conditions were not stable enough to support a multi-story building without substantial soils corrections costs that made the project unfeasible, Adam said.

“Some areas north of Gateway Drive have peat levels of 19 feet,” he said.

Sutton is proposing a 52,000 square-foot, one-story building adjacent to McDonalds and Hanson Boulevard, according to Harlicker.

The dealership will create 150 to 160 new high-tech and sales well-paying jobs for Coon Rapids with an average salary of $48,000 to $60,000 per year and provide an additional $15 million to $17 million in tax base, Adam told the council.

Once the sale of the 10.8 acres to Sutton is complete, only two vacant one-acre parcels on the north side of the property will be left for development, he said.

When the planning commission considered the PUD amendment at its June meeting, there was a 4-3 vote in favor, but the council was unanimous, 6-0 in favor, with Council Member Brad Johnson absent from the meeting.

According to Harlicker, the three commissioners that voted for denial did so because they were concerned about the piecemeal way the site was being developed, the change eliminated the mix of uses originally proposed and a second auto dealership was not an appropriate use.

But the commission majority maintained the proposed PUD change was reasonable given market conditions; the dealership is unique, will provide jobs and increase the tax base; and is also appropriate given the suitability of the soils, Harlicker said.

Council Member Bill Kiecker made the motion to approve the PUD amendment with 11 conditions, many of which will be part of the site plan consideration.

Council mMember Steve Wells seconded the motion. “I think this is a great project,” he said.

A former member and chairperson of the planning commission, Council Member Jenny Geisler said she appreciated the concerns of the commission minority about the piecemeal approach to the development and the loss of the original vision for the uses.

“There is huge frustration,” she said.

But that vision is not a reality in today’s market conditions and it is time for move forward, which was why she was supporting the motion, Geisler said.

Council Member Wade Demmer said he was happy to support the PUD change. “This is a good business to come to town and don’t think there are a lot of options,” he said.

Given the soil conditions, the proposed hotel, retail, restaurant and office uses on those lots are not realistic and he is “thrilled” about the Honda dealership, according to Mayor Jerry Koch.

The Honda dealership will be good for the city, said Council Member Brad Greskowiak.

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