Although the Pillsbury Commons development project remains in the early stages of planning, it has already run into vocal opposition from Richfield City Council members and Richfield residents.
The roughly $12.6 million development would see a substantial new multi-unit housing development constructed on a largely undeveloped block of Richfield at the corner of 77th Street and Pillsbury Avenue.
Council Members Fred Wroge and Pat Elliott have both voiced concerns over the project's current design, publicly stating their opposition to the Ron Clark Construction and Design firm plans for the project during the Nov. 14, 2011 regular council meeting. Since that meeting, one of the project's most vocal opponents has been neighborhood resident Joe Hoover, a homeowner who lives on Harriet Avenue, one block west of the proposed development site.
“When I started looking into this further and further, it was really outrageous. It wasn’t good for the neighborhood and it wasn’t good for the tenants living there,” Hoover said. “It seems really shortsighted.”
Ron Clark Construction & Design, the Edina-based site developer, is currently planning for the construction of 70 affordable, workforce housing units on the southern portion of the city block. A Minnesota Housing and Finance Agency project, it will be financed through a tax credit program associated with that agency. One to three bedroom units would be available for individuals whose incomes meet qualifying guidelines, with apartments expected to rent for between $775 and $1,075 per month. Four of the 70 units will be reserved for either homeless veterans and their families or individuals and families experiencing long term homelessness.
Those plans contrast with recommended development guidelines approved by the city council in 2008, which suggested that the site be used to develop “an array of housing types to accommodate different household sizes and incomes (low and moderate income families).”
Written in partnership with the Corridor Housing Initiative, the 2008 guidelines call for development of the property with low- to medium-density housing targeted at mixed-income individuals and families. For development purposes low-density housing is defined as accommodating six or fewer individuals per acre, while medium-density housing accommodates up to 12 individuals per acre.
Director John Stark said that, while the proposal put forward by the developer differs from those guidelines, however, the city is under no obligation to restrict construction because of the earlier recommendations.
“The city council approved the  guidelines, but they’re just that,” Stark said. “They’re an important thing for the city council to consider when they get this land use application.”
Concerns About the Development
Hoover emphasized that his objections to the current plans did not stem from concerns over property values in his neighborhood, which he said had been a concern expressed by some of his neighbors.
Hoover lives in the same single-family home his uncle and mother were raised in, originally purchased by his grandparents in 1947. He said that his objections to the project had more to do with concerns over the neighborhood’s quality of life—and what he felt had been underhanded tactics by the city—than with possible depreciation in home prices. Hoover also remained concerned about building a development entirely comprised of affordable housing units, rather than the mix of market rate and affordable housing units he said were part of the original guidelines.
“It’s really not about property values, it’s really about the breaking of trust and what is good for the neighborhood,” he said. “It doesn’t serve anyone. The tenants in 100 percent affordable or low-income buildings tend to become stigmatized.”
More than any single issue, Hoover is against construction of a high-density housing development comprised entirely of affordable units, and also maintains the development’s design is out of character for the neighborhood.
Stark said concerns about both property values and increases in crime had been expressed during public meetings about the project, but that he’d been unable to track down quantifiable evidence that legitimated either concern. Stark said , director of , said he wasn't concerned about crime increasing as a result of the project.
Stark said that the primary concern with the Pillsbury Commons development from the City of Richfield’s standpoint is an increase in traffic—and the public safety issues that accompany such increases.
Stark pointed out that, regardless of whether certain resident concerns could be backed up with evidence, he saw any and all feedback as a positive for the city.
“Every project that happens in Richfield there’s a lot of impassioned residents. It’s a good thing,” he said. “I’d worry if there weren’t people who were impassioned about these topics.”
Pillsbury Commons Going Forward
The City of Richfield has thus far made no commitments to the development project aside from agreeing to sell city-owned property at the site to Ron Clark Construction & Design at the appraised price of $415,936. Before construction could move forward, the city council would need to rezone the land and give land-use approval.
“I think that there’s a lot left to be determined on this project, and I guess I would just want people to know that there’s this sense that this is a done deal, and that’s far from the truth,” Stark said. “It’s much earlier in the process than people think.”
Financing for the development is still being worked out, although the bulk of the project's financing is expected to come from the sale of federal tax credits to private investors. Mike Roebuck, a spokesperson for Ron Clark Construction & Design, said the company would be working on addressing concerns voiced by city council members and residents as the project moves forward.