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Commerce Hill project denied

A nearly 40-acre commercial development planned to be anchored by a Super Target got a resounding "no" from the Woodbury City Council Wednesday, June 11.

The city's planning staff had been in talks with the developers of the proposed Commerce Hill project dating back to 2006, but outstanding issues involving traffic and storm water improvements remained unresolved and the council voted 5-0 to deny the development.

Before the Wednesday meeting, representatives of Woodbury Developers LLC submitted a written request to continue the public hearing on the development until June 25, but city planners said they didn't believe the issues would be resolved and held fast to their recommendation for denial of the project.

"It's a very difficult situation and at this point we presented this resolution because we don't think we are going to be able to get these things worked out to the satisfaction of the council," said Woodbury community development director Dwight Picha.

Debate over traffic

Although city planners presented to the council a laundry list of unresolved issues concerning the project, the main issue of contention was the developer's reluctance to pay up front for traffic improvements associated with the proposed development.

The city commissioned a traffic impact study on the project that concluded several traffic improvements would need to be made for the project to be approved, including reconstruction of Tamarack Road as four-lane divided roadway from Preserve Trail to Woodbury Drive.

Improvements were also needed on Commerce Drive.

Previously, city planners said Woodbury Developers LLC was not willing to pay for the improvements up front as a part of the project, because they didn't believe there was sufficient proof the traffic improvements would be needed immediately.

Woodbury Developers LLC representative Mark Johnson confirmed that statement for the council at the meeting.

"We got our consultant together with the city consultant and they discussed a number of issues," Johnson told the council. "And in particular, there is not evidence to support any of the deficiencies on Tamarack (Road) to any levels of service or safety."

Later in the meeting Johnson offered to cut a deal with the city to fund the traffic improvements, but Woodbury Mayor Bill Hargis said such attempts were ill timed and inappropriate.

"The purpose of this meeting is to get a perspective of the council and to see if we have enough information to make a decision, but we've never negotiated these types of deals at council meetings and we're not going to do that tonight," Hargis said.

The council voted 4-1 to deny the developer's request to continue the public hearing to the next council meeting on June 25. Council member Julie Ohs cast the dissenting vote.

"At this point I'm inclined to think about a continuance if everyone has worked so long on this project at this point," Ohs said. "What's a couple more weeks?"

But community development director Picha said the city staff did not believe it would be able to resolve the traffic improvement issues before the deadline for the development application.

The council's unanimous vote to deny the project included a clause that states the developer can come back to the council with the proposed development in September or earlier if the council finds sufficient evidence that circumstances have changed.

Coming up short

The Commerce Hill project had been in the works since 2006, when the JMW Group, which owns the land for the project, came to the city to ask to rezone the property from "places to work" to "places to shop."

The city's commercial comprehensive plan task force recommended the request be approved and the city council approved the property to be rezoned to include 70 percent as places to shop and 30 percent as places to work.

The project plans have included a Super Target as well as bank, office buildings and restaurants.

The city performed an environmental assessment of the site earlier this year, which included an analysis of storm water, parking and traffic issues that became contentious between city planners and the development group.