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BE Council wants to build some homes

By Staff | Nov 24, 2019

Townhomes, duplexes and other multi-family structures like the one at left, are already found around Blue Earth. But, more might be coming.

The Blue Earth City Council would like to see some houses built in their new housing development, and they are willing to put in some money to make it happen.

The council spent the majority of their work session time before their meeting last Monday night discussing a proposal from their Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

The HRA had held its own meeting earlier with APX Construction of Mankato, which is interested in building a several multi-family homes in Blue Earth.

“The HRA is forwarding their recommendation to the council to proceed with the projects,” city administrator Tim Ibisch said. “They felt positive about the project and were excited to see the proposal move forward.”

The project would include homes in three separate areas of the town.

First, there would be four single-level duplexes built in the new housing development.

“The plan had been to put all four in the cul-de-sac area near the entrance to the development,” Ibisch said. “But because the size (of each unit) has been increased, and there will be double garages, only three would fit in the cul-de-sac.”

He said Mayor Rick Scholtes (who was absent from the council meeting) had suggested that a fourth duplex could be built on a lot across the street from the cul-de-sac.

Two other locations in town would be used for “infill” development. That means they would be built in existing neighborhoods to fill in empty lots.

The lots being considered are on Fourth Street and Eighth Street. Both of the lots had previously had duplex style homes on them, which were demolished by the HRA in the past year or so, Ibisch explained.

“These could be two-story duplexes or four-plexes,” Ibisch explained.

The council discussed in depth whether these homes would be for sale or for rent. The answer was the hope is to sell them, but the purchaser may rent them out. However, the units could be rented out, until they would be sold.

That led to a discussion of the need in the city for rental units at market rate and how to solidify the rental market.

Another concern included in the discussion was the design of the structures, including if the garages would be forward facing or be in the back, if there was an alley available.

Basements were another discussion point. Ibisch said the plans call for the buildings to built on a slab, without a basement, and that they would add to the cost.

Councilman Glenn Gaylord said he felt there might be a desire by some potential purchasers to have a basement.

“There could be young families who would want that extra space,” he said. “I wonder if we couldn’t make that an option.”

Safety was another issue brought up as a reason for having a basement.

“They plan on building a “safe room” in each unit,” Ibisch reported. “It would be a bathroom, with extra strong walls, but would not look any different from the rest of the house.”

Ibisch also said that if someone wanted to purchase a unit as it was being built, they would work them and the buyers could have the option of choosing some of the interior items, such as counter tops and cabinets.

The council decided it could be a good idea to create a design committee with two members of the council, two from the HRA and two from the Economic Development Authority (EDA) as well as staff.

As far as costs go, the plan is to partner with APX Construction, with both the city’s HRA and APX Construction sharing in the cost.

To start with, APX would be purchasing six lots in the housing development for $109,000 and the HRA one lot at $22,500. The HRA already owns the two lots on Fourth and Eighth streets.

“We are probably looking at investing quite a bit of money into this,” Ibisch said. “But, there would be no taxpayer money used. We are looking at using a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District or an HRA General Obligation Bond, which would be paid off with the sales of the buildings.”

In the end, it was the general concensus of the council members to move forward on this project in 2020.

“We already have about $1.5 million into the housing area already,” said councilman Russ Erichsrud. “So I think we should invest another $1.5 million to get it going and get some housing out there.”

Others agreed, saying that once people see some construction going on out at the housing development, it will spark some more interest.

As it was a work session, no decisions were made.