St. Anthony city leaders never wavered over the fate of a plan to redevelop Lowry Grove, the suburb's now-vacant mobile home park.
Their resounding decision: Not this project — at least not in its current form.
The City Council's unanimous rejection Tuesday night of the 712-unit proposal throws uncertainty on the site's future. It also spurred applause inside City Hall, just hours after Mayor Jerry Faust warned the crowd against cheering.
"I told you I don't allow applauding — unless it's for me," Faust quipped.
City officials cited density, traffic and worries about disrupting the neighborhood's character as key reasons behind their 4-0 vote. The proposal had called for townhouses and apartment buildings on about 17 acres. The plan included 97 units of affordable housing to replace the mobile homes lost after Lowry Grove's controversial sale and June 30 closure.
Thorny allegations abounded before Tuesday's decision, including questions about the role of city staffers, who initially encouraged the high-density development before abruptly turning against it. The developer and those working with former Lowry Grove residents questioned the suburb's commitment to affordable housing.
Brad Hoyt, president of the Village, a development firm that bought Lowry Grove, said in a letter to St. Anthony leaders that the park would still be open if the city had been clear about density concerns. Hoyt said city staff had indicated "the more density, the better," suggesting the site could accommodate 1,100 units.
City Council members defended the staff's work and the city's support for affordable homes. Faust called for an end to "acrimony" and "animosity."
One by one, area residents stepped forward Tuesday and objected to the development's scale. Worries emerged about overwhelming local schools. "This has always been about density and height," said Ginny Lahti, who lives near the site.
Speakers on both sides of the issue brought up the city's comprehensive plan. That plan, some said, invited the redevelopment of Lowry Grove years before the Village, an affiliate of Wayzata-based Continental Property Group, bought the property for $6 million in 2016.
City Manager Mark Casey said the proposed 41.4 units per acre exceeded the 25 to 40 units allowed in the comprehensive plan.
But density is tangled up in affordability, according to nonprofit developer Aeon, which is handling the affordable housing component of the Village's project. Aeon's involvement came as a result of a recent settlement agreement over Lowry Grove's much-debated sale.
Traci Tomas, vice president of the Village, said that agreement is now in question.
A community organizer said Lowry Grove residents are "still suffering" months after they were dislodged from their homes. "Was this the plan all along?" asked Ned Moore of Asamblea de Derechos Civíles, a local advocacy group that has worked with Lowry Grove families. "To play bait and switch with the developer as long as it accomplished your goal of getting rid of the park? "
Neither Casey nor Faust would comment Tuesday about allegations raised at the meeting.