The Inver Grove Heights City Council has approved several changes that will allow new affordable housing to be built in the city.

The decision was made at the May 29 council meeting.

Building the 40-unit apartment building on land owned by the River Heights Vineyard Church required a series of permits, zoning changes and alterations to the city's comprehensive plan.

Council members unanimously approved them all, an action that won appreciation from several south metro church leaders, the developer and from Charlie Thompson, CEO and president of Neighbors, Inc.

Thompson, whose south metro-based nonprofit helps needy people, advocated for the project at the council meeting, along with the church leaders.

The apartment building is slated to be built on property at 6070 Cahill Av., which is owned by River Heights Vineyard Church. The church will remain on part of the site while an unoccupied parcel to the north will be sold to the developer for the apartments.

The developer, Center City Housing, has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the Dakota County Community Development Agency.

Affordable housing projects typically are hard to fit into a community, in part because of community opposition, said Council Member Paul Hark.

"I like this partnership with the church," Hark said. "I like the fact that there's going to be in-house support."

The building, called Cahill Place, will house low-income families and have 24-hour staff on hand, the developer said.

Council members and church leaders said there's desperate need for more affordable housing in Inver Grove Heights, as rents have skyrocketed in recent years.

Council Member Kara Perry said that two years ago, 15 homeless children attended Inver Grove Heights schools. That number is now up to 40 children.

"I think Dakota County in general needs more housing like this," Perry said.

Erin Adler

Two new railroad quiet zones planned

Inver Grove Heights residents living in two areas of the city will soon get a break from the Union Pacific train horns that blare between three and 10 times each day.

At its June 11 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved the creation of railroad quiet zones in the 105th Street and Concord neighborhoods.

While in those zones, conductors can't sound their horns.

The Concord project will be easier to complete and thus cheaper, said Tom Link, the city's community development director. But construction of the other zone is more complex and requires signal upgrades. The cost is estimated at $250,000.

The city doesn't know where it will get the money for that project but is looking at various options, council members said.

Delaying the project until funding is secured will only make it more expensive, said Council Member Rosemary Piekarski Krech, since construction costs are always rising.

"Either we're going to deal with the railroad issues or we're not," she said.

Mayor George Tourville said the train whistles have become a quality-of-life issue for residents.

Erin Adler


School board reviews interim schools chief

The Shakopee school board met in closed session for more than an hour Monday night to evaluate Interim Superintendent Gary Anger's first year at the helm. Administrators later reported that they received 510 survey responses from district employees that largely sang his praises.

Anger, from Zumbrota-Mazeppa schools, took the reins at Shakopee Public Schools last summer. He was tasked with boosting morale in an embattled district stung by the scandal of his predecessor Rod Thompson, who resigned amid accusations of embezzling public funds.

Within weeks, Anger had written thank-you notes to more than 1,000 Shakopee school district employees and became a regular presence in the classroom.

"He's a culture leader, and our cultural scores are quite strong, along with our credibility and customer service," school Board Member Matt McKeand said Monday. "That's been a huge focus for Gary this year. He knocked it out of the park."

This year, board members expect Anger to pivot his attention toward daily district operations, while maintaining cultural growth. Back-to-back budget deficits have forced the district to make tough cuts, including to special education, technology and staffing.

Anger thanked staff members for their feedback. "I read every single comment," he said.

Liz Sawyer

Apple Valley

Minnesota Zoo conservation leader leaving

Dr. Tara Harris, vice president for conservation at the Minnesota Zoo, will resign next month after 10 years at the state agency. Her last day is Aug. 3.

Harris has accepted a new position as the director of conservation and science at the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation/Phoenix Zoo.

In her time at the Apple Valley zoo, Harris has played a critical role in expanding the zoo's efforts to study and save wildlife in Minnesota and across the globe, said Director John Frawley. She oversaw the North American breeding program for Asian tigers to help ensure a reserve population of the endangered species.

"You are truly one of the strongest advocates for saving wildlife I've ever met," Frawley wrote in an e-mail to staff announcing Harris' departure. "While I understand you're anxious to escape the cold Minnesota winters, we're sure going to miss you."

Before joining the zoo as a conservation biologist in 2008, Harris "spent four years living in the forests of Uganda, studying wild primates for her doctoral research at Yale University and postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute in Germany," according to her biography.

Liz Sawyer