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Ron Clark Releases Statement on Failed Pillsbury Commons Project

The developer said that while there is "no shortage of legal claims," he will not take action against the city.

The final blow to the proposed Pillsbury Commons development project came after the between the City of Richfield and developer Ron Clark .

Following the contract expiration, , however, the city stood firm.

Richfield Patch contacted the developer for comment on the failure of the project. Clark released the following statement to Patch through his attorney, Jim Susag, Thursday afternoon:

Ron Clark Construction & Design (“Ron Clark”) began working with the City of Richfield and the HRA in 2009 on a potential development of the Pillsbury Avenue site (“Pillsbury Commons”).  After preliminary direction from the City Council, Ron Clark and the HRA entered into a Preliminary Development Agreement in 2010 for an exclusive right to develop Pillsbury Commons.  At that time, the plan was for 66 for-sale units; subsequent study of the site and the market, however, did not support the for-sale concept.

In April 2011, the City Council reviewed a refined plan for a 70-unit workforce housing project on the southern portion of the site.  The HRA supported the plan and renewed its previous agreement with Ron Clark.  Because the refined plan involved significant design costs, financing application costs, traffic and market studies, both the City/HRA and the Ron Clark needed to be clear that there was City support for the concept before committing to these expenses.  The HRA agreement specifically states “Clark is willing to undertake the activities described in this Agreement only with the reasonable assurance from the HRA that it will support and cooperate with Clark in its efforts.”  Based on this clear and consistent support from the HRA and City Council, the development team developed concept plans, secured financing and incurred significant expense in doing so.

In June 2011, the City Council (comprised of the very same members as in 2012) unanimously approved a resolution supporting “70 units of affordable housing”.  The resolution also noted that 100% of the units would be affordable to persons with incomes at 60% of the area median income.  The City further entered into a binding Option Agreement, agreeing to sell Ron Clark the southern portion of the Pillsbury Commons site.

Immediately following issuance of the Council resolution, Ron Clark submitted its application to the MHFA.  As part of the MHFA application, Ron Clark was required by MHFA to have the agreements for site control and financing in place.  The Council resolution and the letter of support from the HRA dated June 14, 2011 were included in the application to the MHFA.  The HRA letter reiterates that “The 70 units at Pillsbury Commons will help the HRA and City meet its goals for affordable housing, urban expansion without sprawl, and better serving populations that are traditionally underserved, including households of color and single heads of household with minor children.”

Following application and approval from the MHFA, Ron Clark submitted its land use applications to the City in 2012.  It sought to combine the property the City already agreed to sell it through the Option Agreement with additional property owned by the City and the HRA.  Instead of supporting the project as it had previously, the City Staff, Planning Commission, HRA and the City Council did everything possible to cater to the unsubstantiated concerns of the neighbors, most significantly the allegedly undesirable people that the neighbors believed would live at Pillsbury Commons.  In doing so, the City failed to adhere to its own meeting procedures, denied Ron Clark a proper public discourse and ignored multiple housing studies commissioned by the City, including the Corridor Housing Initiative and the City of Richfield Rental Housing Inventory and Needs Assessment.  Ultimately, the City and HRA rejected the project—the very same project that only one year before it had unanimously supported.  No explanation for this reversal was or has been supplied.

Ron Clark has now abandoned its pursuit of the project.  And, while there is no shortage of legal claims that could be brought against the City and the HRA, it has elected to forego legal action.  Ron Clark will continue to focus its business activities on projects in other communities in the Twin Cities.

David O'Sullivan July 12, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Mr. Clark is upset that Richfield City Council unanimously reversed a unanimous decision of a year ago. Perhaps the reversed decision had something to do with the huge opposition this plan had from Richfield residents. It is heartening to see democracy at work. You have to deal with the people, Mr. Clark, not just the administrators who represent the people (who had little say in the original decision).
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) July 12, 2012 at 08:04 PM
This was just posted on the Richfield Patch Facebook page: "Unbelievable. This sentence really got me: 'Instead of supporting the project as it had previously, the City Staff, Planning Commission, HRA and the City Council did everything possible to cater to the unsubstantiated concerns of the neighbors, most significantly the allegedly undesirable people that the neighbors believed would live at Pillsbury Commons.' "The fight with Ron Clark had absolutely NOTHING to do with the people who would be living there. It had to do with the sheer NUMBER of people they wanted to put on that small plot of land. We also wanted to ensure that we are creating a BETTER Richfield, a place where people want to come and live and spend their lives." Anyone else have something to share about this statement?
Ghislaine Ball July 12, 2012 at 09:10 PM
As you can imagine I'm very pleased with the outcome - not just that we were able to defeat a project that did not meet the needs of the city but that we really came together as a community and also that our little grassroots effort seems to have positively influenced how our elected team, the city staff and the citizens of the city are viewing the future of the city - it feels like people are feeling more empowered and more positive about things. I know of several community-led projects that have sprouted out of this experience and I feel strongly that this success will lead to a more engaged population. Regarding the statement above - why waste energy on what Ron Clark thinks or says he thinks - we know what the issues were, we've learned loads and now let's move forward to actively and positively grow our city in the direction that's best for our now and future residents.

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