Thompson annexation approved, but council cautions against hurried development

Posted 6/21/22

By Sarah Nigbor RIVER FALLS – After lengthy discussion, the River Falls City Council voted June 14 to annex 43 acres into the city limits near the intersection of Radio and Paulson roads; however, …

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Thompson annexation approved, but council cautions against hurried development


By Sarah Nigbor

RIVER FALLS – After lengthy discussion, the River Falls City Council voted June 14 to annex 43 acres into the city limits near the intersection of Radio and Paulson roads; however, the zoning and potential development of the two parcels inspired debate about the best use for the property’s northern parcel, which borders Highway 35. Ultimately, the council voted to … The property’s south parcel is about 28.99 acres, while the north parcel between Paulson Road and Highway 35, is about 13.68 acres.

As part of the annexation, city staff asked that the acreage be rezoned from Industrial to R3 High Density Residential and that the future land use classification be deemed High Density Residential. The acreage, which contains no buildings, is owned by Thompson Family LLC. All owners are in agreement and Mary Thompson, managing member of the LLC, approached the city requesting the annexation, Community Development Director Amy Peterson said.

“We have three different housing developers who are anticipating developing the properties for residential uses,” Shively said at the May Plan Commission meeting.

The proposal set forth is to build a variety of homes, including twin homes, rental townhomes, and multi-family apartment building, providing 310 housing units with an estimated assessed value of $62 million. The city might collect $380,000 in property taxes in 2024 if the developments go as planned, Shively had said.

The 2005 Comprehensive Plan designated those parcels for future industrial development, but that was prior to the city’s Mann Valley acquisition of more than 200 acres for a corporate park. “It was probably assumed that Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park would continue along Paulson Road,” Peterson said.

The proposed development is located where the North Loop water and sewer project is planned, Peterson said. The cost to install the infrastructure would be $463,000, but the developer is amenable to paying that cost up front, which is a cost savings to the city, Peterson said.

“Developers have done feasibility and market studies and have found that there is a significant demand for housing in River Falls,” Peterson said. “Future land use from industrial to residential is needed.”

After hearing feedback at the last city council meeting, staff had discussions about designating the northern parcel as commercial. However, staff still feel residential is the most acceptable land use for that particular lot. Peterson outlined the following reasons: Lots are available in the current corporate parks There is an overall decline in commercial development Commercial businesses typically want visibility and right turns of access. This parcel has low visibility for vehicles coming from the north and only left turn access The extent of commercial interest the city has received for this area in the past year has been for mini storage units.

A 2018 housing study identified the number of housing units to keep up with demand at 2,087 by 2030. So far, 672 have been built.

Public hearing

Mark Laverty, director of development with Saturday Properties based in St. Louis Park, Minn., represents one of the developers interested in the property. He echoed Peterson’s comments that commercial development is declining, at least building new.

“That site doesn’t have enough rooftops nearby,” Laverty said. “Retail follows rooftops. The area is just not there yet.”

The access for a commercial business is inconvenient and hard to get to, thanks to the roundabout. The topography is challenging as the lot is not flat; commercial developers would prefer a flat lot, Laverty said. Not to mention, housing is lacking in the area. “Housing is a huge need, and people need more employees, more customers,” Laverty said. “People can’t fill jobs if people can’t live nearby.”

Jay Fletch of Fletch Real Estate, who represent the Thompson family, remarked that it’s tough to tell someone what they can and can’t do with their land. “If this is not allowed, they (the Thompsons) will lose two buyers,” he said.

Council discussion

Alderperson Scott Morrissette led things off by saying he appreciates the comments, but is struggling with the northern parcel being R3.

“I support the annexation,” he said. “But we need to be very deliberate at all four quadrants of that intersection as it develops … I do not support residential development on that parcel. I differ from the comments made and from staff. I’m not trying to send a message to staff that I want to slow down development or anything else. I just think on that particular parcel, it’s better suited, for instance, for a B3 designation. I do not want mini storage there and I would not vote for mini storage there, just to be clear.”

He said better use for the northern parcel would be an office building, medical clinic, dry cleaner, furniture store, hotel, bank or daycare. As such, he put forward a motion to designate (zoning and future land use) that parcel as B3 (Business) Highway, which the council approved.

“We are on the same page,” said Alderperson Jeu Bjork. “We talked about that there needs to be more housing in River Falls, and I can’t disagree, but we need to be looking at maybe having or figuring out a way to have more of a transition.”

He’s talked to many people living in rentals who want to buy a home, but can’t find any or are priced out, Bjork said. “I don’t want to say I’m against people mov- ing into our town, but I’d really like to take care of the people that are here now and want to continue to call River Falls their home and not look to see how many more people I can get to move to River Falls,” Bjork said. “Let’s take care of the people we have now.” Alderperson Sean Downing asked City Administrator Scot Simpson to weigh in. From a legal standpoint, high density residential could still happen with a B3 designation, he said. Zoning it B3 is not preventing someone from developing housing there, he warned. However, it does open up other options. “I think it would be challenging to see that as a potential commercial parcel,” Simpson said. “It’s doubtful anyone will find that site desirable for commercial unless no other site exists. The site is sunken, you can’t see it from the north.”

Morrissette reiterated the need to be deliberate and not hurry to develop those four quadrants.

“Just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean we have to go for it either,” Morrissette said. “We need to be more deliberate with these four quadrants because it’s a key intersection. Part of the job that we have, especially as we’re coming into this new area of town, is to send a message to developers and the people that ‘this is what we’d like to see here.'” The council voted to annex the property with Morrissette’s amendment.

Pride flag request

Resident Dennis Nelson asked the city council to remove the Pride flag flying at City Hall. He said the rainbow symbolizes God’s covenant with mankind not to flood the earth again, according to the Bible. It’s not meant to symbolize LGBTQIA+ pride, he said.

“This is how the rainbow began, and we’re waving a rainbow flag over our city and not in light of that meaning, and I believe that because of this disrespect for God, we will incur his wrath,” Nelson said. “It’s meant to be a reminder of God’s mercy that he will not do this again, but is flaunting the very thing that he abhors.”

Two residents from the Kennedy Street neighborhood asked the city to consider carefully the plan to install sidewalks lead – ing from Wells Park to the Peregrine Terrace neighborhood. One woman is worried about the number of trees that would be removed.

Other business

• The council voted 6-1 (Alderperson Alyssa Mueller voted against) using $60,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds toward Emerald Ash Borer mitigation. The original spending plan included $30,000 for a wage and compensation study and $30,000 for a transportation utility feasibility study, both of which were removed.

• The council approved a resolution approving a state/municipal agreement for the Powell Avenue bridge deck reconstruction project. The total project is estimated to cost $873,500, of which federal funds will pay $698,400.