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Zumbro House moves ahead in Newport

Zumbro House will include 200 units and some commercial space. This view is facing Ford Road. Courtesy of the city of Newport

NEWPORT — Zumbro House is hoping to start construction this fall for a four-story, 200-unit supported housing apartment building, but final approvals are pending due to parkland decisions.

The conditional-use permit was approved in February, but City Council approved some of the final conditions at the Sept. 20 meeting as part of the developer's agreement.

Christopher Onken, owner of Zumbro House, returned to the council this month to finalize three conditions in the agreement to move forward for fall construction: parking variances, the look of the building and park dedication fees.

Because Zumbro House will be supported housing for adults with disabilities or mental illness, Onken said it's likely that at most 5 percent of the residents would have a car.

Though a development of this size would usually be required to have 480 parking spaces, the residency requirements means it can be cut down.

Onken proposed 244 spaces, with a possible 140 more if needed after a check by staff two years after the building is at complete occupancy.

The exterior designs were also supported by City Council.

"We want a property the city of Newport can be proud of," Onken said. "We want it to look nice and for everyone to feel proud."

The project will include some commercial spaces, but the users have not yet been determined. Though they will be open to anyone, Onken said they are looking for retailers that meet the needs of the Zumbro House residents.

The building, to be located at 2300 Hastings Ave., will consist of mostly one- and a few two-bedroom units.

City Council passed these two conditions 4-0, with council member Tracy Rahm absent.

Park fees

Still up for discussion are the park dedication fees.

Part of the new development approval is allocating land, money or park features in the development as a park dedication.

Onken proposed walking trails, a sand volleyball court, a basketball court and an open park play area as part of the Zumbro House development. There would also be a courtyard park area in the middle of the building that would be only for residents.

The city estimates the features they would accept for credit add up to a value of about $260,000. Under the park dedication ordinance, a development of that size would need to dedicate about $300,000.

Mayor Dan Lund suggested affordable housing TIF (tax increment financing) be used for the development to help capture park fees. TIF is a way to capture tax funds from a designated area and funnel that money back into the development over time.

"My position on this all along is we can support this project, and we can make allowances, but we don't have to do it only with city money, and I think we'd be foolish to do it only with city money when we have a mechanism to capture the incremental taxes that are produced from that project," Lund said. "It makes no sense for us to give up hundreds of thousands of dollars when we could instead share that burden among all the benefitting entities from this project.

Other council members were less sure about the sudden inclusion of TIF in discussions of the development agreement.

"If there's a way for that to work, it's kind of a win-win for everyone, but not at the expense of him keeping on his construction schedule," council member Kevin Chapdelaine said. "... If there's a way to keep it, I concur. But it's got to be legal and and it's got to be right."

City Attorney Fritz Knaack suggested the city check with their bond counsel before taking any firm steps.

Staff is hoping to hear back before the next City Council meeting on Oct. 4, when Onken hopes to get a concrete answer on park dedication fees and start construction.

He is against the clock, hoping to break ground in November in order to start the yearlong construction process before the ground freezes. If construction is pushed until spring, he will miss his goal to open in 2019.

Without the city counting the areas as credit for park dedication, Onken fears the residents' access to park and outdoor space could disappear.

"The ability for us to be able to put this much park feature into our development is really dependent on the council's ability or willingness to provide a reduction in our park dedication fees," he said. "We're not going to be able to pay full park dedication fees and then also put this many park features into the development."

As most of the residents won't have cars or easy access to transportation, it would be very difficult for them to get to the other city parks if not onsite.

"We think it's appropriate given that the folks that are going to be residing at these apartments, they are not going to be using existing Newport park resources," he said. "As a result, we'd like to be able to put them on site as we are with the retail development, to make it very easy. Transportation is tremendously difficult for these folks."