A bold attempt to begin to create a mini-neighborhood on scraps of unused land just off the 10-lane Wakota Bridge has been dealt a setback.

The Metropolitan Council's thumbs-down response to a request for nearly $1 million in subsidies means the whole effort in Newport will now likely have to wait for another year, officials say.

"They told us we scored high enough for funding, but they ran out of funds," said Barbara Dacy, executive director of the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. "There were more applications this year as the economy has improved, and more communities submitted development plans."

Affordable housing, especially when it's within walking distance of transit, is a major emphasis for the Met Council these days. And the Newport project would have involved just that — scores of affordable units right across the street from a transit station that opened in December.

But the county lost out to, among others, a similar offering at the opposite end of the metro area. An 68-unit affordable housing project in the city of Carver, south of Chaska, near an even-brand-newer park and ride transit facility, was last week awarded $1.2 million, out of a $7.5 million pool shared among eight projects.

It apparently didn't help the Newport effort, Dacy said, that bus service at this early stage is a bit anemic compared to competing projects.

"There is a transit service," she said, "but it just has peak-hour service, which doesn't give you as many points as other locations get. That was just one of the factors."

The Newport station on the Red Rock Corridor offers just three morning inbound trips to downtown St. Paul and three evening rush-hour returns.

In contrast, Matt Fyten, manager of Planning and Customer Services for SouthWest Transit, pointed to a schedule for the Carver station that lists 14 morning departures from 6:10 a.m. to 9:03 a.m.

The Met Council staff summary for the Carver project also mentions its "strong pedestrian linkages" not only to transit but to downtown Carver via a pedestrian underpass.

The Newport project, on the other hand, occupies what is now an isolated spot surrounded by highways, bridges and rail lines. When a reporter stopped by the other day to see what sort of use it was getting, only two vehicles occupied a 150-space parking lot.

Bigger goals

Autumn Lehrke, the Red Rock Corridor commission chairwoman and Washington County commissioner when the application was made, called it "the start of a larger transformation for Newport and the Red Rock Corridor."

Deb Hill, city administrator in Newport, said she hasn't seen a lot of promotion for it so far but believes in the concept of such a high-visibility site.

"We're trying to do our own thing in the same area," she said. "We'd like to acquire some land nearby from the state that would enhance the whole project.

"We're looking at a piece of open land appraised at $430,000 and that's a significant amount of change for us, working with the HRA and a local business that is a possible participant."

The $975,000 request would have made possible a first phase of perhaps 40 to 45 units out of an eventual neighborhood of more than 600 units, officials said.

That would include land purchases, a vital early step. It will now be necessary to confer with the private developer, Dacy said. The developer, Chris Stokke, could not be reached.

"When all the pieces are in place, this is going to be a great asset for Newport and the surrounding area," with its eventual trails along the nearby river, the HRA's Ryan Gruber said.

David Peterson • 952-746-3285