An affordable housing development is moving forward with divided approval in Columbia Heights, leaving behind a series of fiery public comments and a debate that continues to churn beyond City Hall.
City Council members split 3-2 on the project’s site plan, with Council Members Nick Novitsky and John Murzyn casting “no” votes earlier this week.
Aside from senior housing developments, the 148-unit apartment project marks the first of its kind in Columbia Heights in more than three decades, city officials say.
“The renters in this city deserve decent places to live,” Council Member Connie Buesgens said before voting Monday.
Plymouth-based Dominium plans to build the two apartment buildings at 1069 Grandview Way and 4729 Grand Avenue NE., on an old Kmart site.
More than 20 people spoke at a tense public hearing ahead of Monday’s vote. The hearing yielded barbed exchanges and prompted Mayor Donna Schmitt to rap her gavel and call for order.
Much of the concern centered on the project’s density and parking, with some questioning if 222 spaces would be enough for 148 units.
The development includes 88 surface spots and 134 underground spots, the latter available to tenants for an additional cost, according to Dominium.
The developer says the site’s access to transit makes its parking plan reasonable.
“We wouldn’t make this investment if we weren’t positive that this parking would work,” said Owen Metz of Dominium.
A group of homeowners in nearby condominiums say they remain unsold on the project.
Some describe the apartment plan as the culmination of broken promises involving an earlier plan for the site, which called for more condos. Then, the Great Recession hit.
Area homeowners asked city leaders for more time Monday to see what other developments the site could attract in a rebounding economy.
“This whole development was built for homeownership,” said Paul Biernat, president of the Grand Central Lofts condo association. “Homeownership is the right thing for Columbia Heights.”
Others were similarly critical of bringing more rental housing into the city.
Census data show the city has 65 percent owner-occupied housing and 35 percent renter-occupied, compared with Twin Cities regional totals of 68 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
This week’s split City Council approval sparked loud opposition from a crowd packed in City Hall, with some shouting “You’re fired!” and “You’re done!” to council members who voted “yes.”
Dominium says the apartments will be income-restricted and affordable to those living at 60 percent of the area’s median income. Rents will range from $939 to $1,297. The development will also accept Section-8 vouchers.
Supporters of the project say it will draw new families and young professionals to the inner-ring suburb. The high-density project, some say, could also provide a commercial boon to key corridors such as Central Avenue.
“This project is an amazing opportunity to bring people into Columbia Heights,” said resident Sean Broom. “Here is how we can say Heights is a place to stop — not to drive through.”
Dominium expects the project’s construction to take about 16 months, with the apartments opening as early as spring 2019.