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The median house value in Medina is more than $500,000, more than two-and-a-half times the statewide median. This Carlson Custom Homes property in the Meadows development listed for $2.7 million in 2005.

Star Tribune file,

Medina housing complex shelved amid controversy

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON
  • Star Tribune
  • June 10, 2014 - 3:00 PM

In the wake of a tense public hearing process, a proposed affordable-housing complex in Medina has quietly been taken off the table.

Plymouth-based Dominium proposed a 32-unit complex for a spot near Hwy. 55. The Medina City Council was set to formally consider the company’s land-use applications at its June 3 meeting, following unanimous approval from the Planning Commission April 8.

But in a brief e-mail hours before the June 3 meeting, Dominium Senior Development Associate Nick Andersen notified Medina city officials of the company’s decision to formally withdraw its land use application.

Dominium did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Medina Mayor Elizabeth Weir said she didn’t find out until the afternoon of June 3 that Dominium had backed out. She attributed the withdrawal to “huge resistance from the community.”

“My sense is there was an unspoken fear out there,” she said.

About seven years ago, the Metropolitan Council set a goal for Medina to have 506 new units of affordable housing by 2020.

Weir said the city already has some affordable housing that’s cropped up, without commotion, in the older part of town. The Metropolitan Council’s goal “feels unrealistic in the context of Medina,” she said.

The Dominium project was intended to be Section 42 housing, with an income limit of $49,780 for a family of four. Section 42 is a government-subsidized program that provides tax credits to developers to build affordable housing, rather than providing rent assistance directly to tenants.

Four of the units were to be set aside as a temporary option for families without permanent housing. Tenants in those units would get assistance from Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, an organization that serves the western suburbs.

Community members have been deeply divided on the development. At public hearings May 28-29, locals expressed everything from support to adamant opposition, often due to concerns about increased crime and diminished property values.

Medina resident Mike McLaughlin said discussion about the development “got really ugly.”

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said. “I thought we were better people than that.”

An affluent community

Medina is a small, affluent community made up mostly of single-family homes. The median value of its housing stock is more than $500,000, compared to less than $200,000 statewide, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. An Edina Realty billboard off Hwy. 55, near the proposed development site, boasts “Homes are selling! 290 within 2 miles.”

As the Dominium proposal gained traction, the city provided multiple studies on its website showing that affordable housing does not tend to diminish surrounding property values — in fact, it can push them up.

The city also provided data on 911 calls in Medina and existing Dominium properties nearby. From 2009-14, the number of calls from Medina properties — including apartments, townhouses, single-family homes and senior housing — tended to be lower than at the Dominium properties.

But McLaughlin, who’s lived in Medina for about 20 years, said he doesn’t think crime and property values were residents’ only concerns.

“I think they just didn’t want a project like this in their back yard,” he said.

Mixed feelings about site

Some residents who expressed general support for affordable housing brought up concerns about this particular spot, pointing out the lack of recreational spaces and nearby schools.

The empty lot abuts the Medina Entertainment Center and Medina Inn on one side, and a wetland and small residential neighborhood on the other. There’s no access to public transit, and the bar and restaurant attached to the entertainment center can get busy.

Still, entertainment center co-owner Paul Raskob said he thought the project was a good fit for the site. The lack of affordable housing in Medina can make it tough for business owners — especially those in the service industry — to find employees who live in the area, he said.

Peg Rasmussen, a longtime Medina business owner and former Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners board member, said she didn’t expect the proposal to go through, but supported the development.

“You know, there were some problems with that site,” she said, “but I think there were going to be problems with every site.”

City braces for growth

Beneath the layers of conflict was something very simple, Rasmussen said — change.

As nearby cities have grown and developed, Medina has remained mostly untouched. Many residents who moved there for its rural feel would like it to stay that way.

“People just don’t like change, Number 1, but they also don’t like increased density,” she said.

Weir said she’s worked to reduce the Metropolitan Council’s population goals for the city, in part because there simply isn’t the transportation infrastructure to handle a burst of growth. So far, she’s gotten the number down from 11,000 people by 2030 to 9,000 by 2040.

Still, recent years have brought a rush of postrecession development, she said, and it’s unlikely to go away.

“Medina will continue to evolve,” Weir said. “And we’ll see how it goes.”

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509

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