Click here, Outlot G map, to see a map of the Northstar train station area with the possible apartment building site.
by Joni Astrup
Most Elk River City Council members appear open to the possibility of another apartment building near the Northstar train station.
Duffy Development Co., which built The Depot at Elk River Station apartment building across from the train station last year, is looking to build another one nearby.
The idea was run past the City Council at a Feb. 13 work session. No vote was taken, but there was consensus from a majority of council members to keep moving forward with the apartment building idea.
For the project to proceed, the council would need to take several actions. One would be to change the land use of the proposed site, known as Outlot G, because it was originally established for retail and office development, according to Elk River Planning Manager Jeremy Barnhart.
The original plan for Outlot G proposed one 12,000-square-foot retail/office building and one 5,000-square foot retail/office building as well as a convenience store/gas station.
Now Duffy Development would like to build an apartment building where the retail/office buildings have been proposed. The convenience store/gas station would stay in the plan.
The apartment building would be patterned after The Depot at Elk River Station, a 53-unit, four-story building with underground parking.
Barnhart said it would be a “fairly drastic” change in land use.
He said the city’s recent 171st Avenue Focused Area Study, or FAST, looked at the area around the Northstar station. Outlot G is envisioned in the study as being home to two- to five-story retail, office and residential buildings.
“From that perspective, staff is comfortable with this proposed change,” Barnhart said.
The FAST Study also suggested that — contrary to the city’s initial thinking — people riding a commuter train aren’t necessarily looking to shop before and after using the train.
Barnhart told the council the commercial environment that was understood when the plan for the Northstar station area was approved in 2003 isn’t necessarily reality.
“I think the FAST Study taught us a lot about our expectations based on what the commuter rail will bring,” Barnhart said.
He also doesn’t think there will ultimately be enough internal traffic to that area to support a lot of retail.
Council Member Matt Westgaard wondered if there may be potential for retail on the first floor of the proposed apartment building. Barnhart said the current proposal is for all residential in the building.
Council Member Paul Motin said he would not be in favor of changing the plan to allow the apartment building.
“The whole plan when that development was done was that area along Twin Lakes Road was going to be commercial and retail,” Motin said.
He believes businesses could be patronized not only by Northstar riders, but by motorists passing by.
“It’s still prime for commercial, maybe not right now in this economy,” Motin said.
Council Member Jerry Gumphrey expressed support for allowing the apartment building, adding: “I just don’t see a lot of potential for commercial there.”
Council Member Nick Zerwas agreed they have learned what’s realistic for development around a train station.
“Going into it, several years back there was an idea that this was going to spur this instant development — your dry cleaners and everything were going to pop up overnight. That just isn’t realistic,” Zerwas said.
Council Member Matt Westgaard also said that they learned a lot from the FAST Study and that the area around the train station isn’t a destination location for business as much as it is residential.
However, he still sees an opportunity to maintain some space for first-floor retail.
Barnhart said he would ask the developer to consider that if the apartment building project continues to move forward.