by Eric Oslund
The Otsego City Council and Guardian Angels came together one last time during the council’s meeting on Monday, July 24, to finalize the deal they had previously agreed upon, but it almost unraveled.
The tax increment financing portion, which saw Guardian Angels receive 90 percent assistance over 26 years, was approved a week prior to this meeting. On Monday, the council was approving a planned unit development district, a planned unit development stage plan, and Guardian Angels’ final plat, which also saw five outlots get deeded back over to the city: one small section to help accommodate an existing trail system, two storm water ponding outlots and two future commercial development sites.
The council voted 4-0, as Mayor Jessica Stockamp was not present, in favor of everything discussed, but it wasn’t without hesitation.
The development agreement had a number of deed restrictions placed on these outlots, as Guardian Angels wanted to ensure the businesses that purchased them would be beneficial to its senior housing. The City Council agreed with most of the conditions; however, there were two aspects of the restrictions that the two sides had trouble coming to terms on – the height and architectural style.
The development agreement states that no building constructed on the outlots may exceed one story in height, and all buildings built on the outlots must have a pitched roof. These were two things that really did not sit well with the council, as council members felt it greatly limited the types of businesses that could buy the lots.
“I guess I have a real problem with that,” acting mayor Vern Heidner said. “I think we should be allowed to go up to at least two stories. For me, that’s approaching the deal-breaker status.”
The other three council members agreed with Heidner on this as all four of them viewed it as a way for Guardian Angels to make sure their new senior housing unit remained visible from Highway 101. But since the structure is four stories high, and Highway 101 is elevated from the lot, council members said it should not be hard to see even if a two-story building were placed in front of it.
And while Guardian Angels did admit that it would be nice for people driving to be able to see and recognize the building from the highway because the only way one of these facilities to work is if it’s full, it was not the primary reason for the height restriction.
Guardian Angels wanted to make sure people living on that side of the building have a decent view. The company knows the river will draw the most attention but also wants to make sure residents on the other side of the building receive acceptable sight lines as well and do not have to stare at the side of a building.
“Part of the reason we went the route we did with this property wasn’t, originally, to have the property readily available for development and making money, as you will,” said Ron Touchette of Rock Solid. “It was to make the entire campus a higher quality campus that was beneficial for the seniors. So we would still maintain that it is a critical factor to our design and to the positive living environment of this campus.”
There was some brief discussion by the council about possibly changing the wording to remove the one-story limitation, but it would not be as simple as that.
If the council were to do that on Monday night, the development agreement would have then gone back to Guardian Angels for approval, and for them to move forward, it needed to be approved this week because Guardian Angels is also looking to get bonds to help finance the project. If the development agreement were not approved this week, then the company would not be able to submit its bond application in time.
Guardian Angels’ CEO Dan Dixon was out of the country, which threw another wrinkle into decision making.
But, at the end of the day, Guardian Angels did not want a multi-story building constructed in front of its facility and was a little taken aback that there was so much discussion about the limitations this late in the game.
“My concern here is that there’s a lot of moving parts. This is a $31 million project. It should overshadow the ones in front of it. We could not move forward if the one story (requirement) was removed,” Touchette said.
“It would mean going back to the board, contacting the CEO, which could be done, of course, but there are too many pieces to change the basic design of the development at this time.”
The council members seemed to understand where Guardian Angels was coming from, as they did want to get this project done as well.
It led to Council Member Tom Darkenwald to have an idea – one that both sides seemed to be happy with.
“In the future, say we had a two-story that came in. You would sit down with the city and see if we could make something work, even though we put it in here as one story,” he asked. “If it was something you thought was a really good fit for Guardian Angels? You guys would be open to at least having a discussion, correct?”
The Guardian Angels representatives present agreed that if it were a later point in time, and the business was something that would benefit their residents and the surrounding community, that they would be open to discuss the possibility to a two-story building. However, they could not change the wording in the development agreement because if they did, they would not get any input during that later date.
That seemed to be sufficient enough for the City Council members, as they unanimously voted to approve of the development plan as it was written, subject to Guardian Angels working with them down the road regarding possible developments.
Guardian Angels plans to break ground for its Otsego site on Sept. 7.