Council clears path for Brainerd supportive housing project
Brainerd City Council members approved several measures last week to further a housing project in west Brainerd.
BRAINERD — Permits are in place for a supportive housing project in Brainerd.
After months of stalled efforts , followed by a successful groundbreaking last month, My Neighbor To Love Coalition is moving ahead on a project that proposes two 12-unit apartment buildings and a boarding house in west Brainerd.
The nonprofit, under the leadership of Executive Director Vicky Kinney, strives to offer those in the community a pathway to permanent housing at a cost that fits into residents’ budgets and offers solution-based resources to promote healthy and purposeful living.
Brainerd City Council members approved four measures during their meeting Nov. 7 to further the project.
“We are grateful and excited to be able to continue with preparations for our next steps,” Kinney wrote in a news release following the meeting. “We are looking forward to contributing our part to the work that is being done to help people going through a difficult time.”
First up was the vacation of two alley rights-of-way between Northwest Second and Third streets from Jackson Street to James Street. Having the alleys — which are recorded as alleys but do not exist as alleys right now — divide the property, Kinney said, prevents her organization from being able to fully develop the site, which is proposed to have the two apartment buildings and a mixed use building that would include a health club and boarding house. There were no objections to the vacation from surrounding property owners, and no one spoke during the council’s public forum on the matter.
Council members approved the alley vacation on a 4-3 vote, with council members Gabe Johnson, Kevin Stunek and Mike O’Day opposed.
“I spent a lot of time looking through our comprehensive plan, the future land use maps, reading our brand new, hot-off-the-presses zoning code, and I just can’t find a justification to vacate this,” Johnson said. “This part of town was just rezoned.”
The area is zoned Traditional Neighborhood 2 (TN-2) under the city’s new zoning code and is intended to provide a pedestrian-oriented mix of residential and neighborhood-serving commercial uses. It should reinforce the existing pattern of small, connected lots, blocks and streets and support development redevelopment consistent with that pattern.
The other two areas in the city zoned TN-2 are spots along Kingwood Street and Oak Street.
Johnson said the planned development for these lots does not meet the standards of TN-2 in terms of small lots, walkability, sidewalks and alley garbage pickup.
We are looking forward to contributing our part to the work that is being done to help people going through a difficult time.
Stunek and O’Day agreed with Johnson, while Jamie Bieser said he does believe facilities like this fall within the zoning district, and Tiffany Stenglein pointed out the land has been sitting vacant for quite some time.
“It hasn’t been built up or developed. It hasn’t been terribly appealing,” Stenglein said. “So while I do love our traditional neighborhoods, I think that this is a viable use for this land that we haven’t had before, and it will actually be used.”
Council President Kelly Bevans voted in favor of the measure, alongside Bieser, Stenglein and Tad Erickson, who acts as council liaison to the Planning Commission, which recommended the plans for approval .
A preliminary plat
The next item on the list was approving a preliminary plat for the land. The plat is referred to as Creekside Community, and the intent behind the request is to consolidate the 11 lots into four larger lots for the apartment complexes and other buildings.
Johnson and O’Day again voted against the motion, with Johnson reiterating that the TN-2 district is supposed to support a mixture of housing densities and commercial uses and saying he does not believe replatting land into bigger lots fits with the city’s comprehensive plan.Erickson said the Planning Commission talked a lot about the proposal, including the goals in the comprehensive plan to expand housing options throughout the city.
Erickson, Stenglein, Bevans, Bieser and Stunek voted in favor of the plat.
The last two items on the council agenda for the project were conditional use permits for the first of the two apartment complexes and the boarding house.
The two-story Creekside Center is planned as a holistic health facility to be the neighborhood hub. Plans for the first level include health-related support services, classes and activities, with employment training as a major focus.
“We are eager to develop training that highlights the dignity of work and will equip participants with skills of problem-solving and communication, interviewing, resume writing and will also cover topics such as the characteristics of successful employees,” Kinney wrote in her news release.
The upper level of Creekside Center will contain a boarding house, where potential residents can live while waiting to move into one of the units at the nearby apartment complexes. These residents would be able to attend on-site classes and have the chance to secure employment and learn about Creekside Community before moving in permanently.
While the pictures looked nice, O’Day asked about a maintenance plan and who would be in charge of the upkeep. Community Development Director James Kramvik said a maintenance plan is not required for a conditional use permit, but the council could consider an interim use permit, which would require the applicant to come back after a certain amount of the time to reapply for the permit.
The parking plan for the facility includes eight parking spaces. Six are required for the boarding house and four for the health club under city code, but Kinney proposed a deferment of two of the spaces required for the health club because those who are using the club will primarily be residents who live on site and will already have parking with their apartment complexes, the first of which has a 27-space parking lot included in its plans.
“Look at all of those parking spots,” Johnson said. “My heart breaks for Kingwood if this is what we want TN-2 to look like. This is TN-2? This is Kingwood Street of the future? … I don’t think that was the intent of anybody involved in the zoning process.”
The permit for the boarding house passed on a 4-3 vote, with Johnson, O’Day and Stunek opposed.
The second conditional use permit was for the first apartment complex on the north end of the property. The building would be designed to meet housing needs of both single adults and families with limited income.
It would have eight studio units (430 square feet), two two-bedroom units (910 square feet) and two three-bedroom units (1,040 square feet). There would also be a laundry room and storage room for residents to use, along with a front porch on each unit. The studio units would be one level, and the larger family units would be two stories.
My heart breaks for Kingwood if this is what we want TN-2 to look like. This is TN-2? This is Kingwood Street of the future?
The grounds are planned to be landscaped with permaculture and food forest goals in mind and include a community garden, memorial garden, park and playground.
Johnson again said he would vote no on the permit.
“I think it takes a ridiculous amount of cognitive dissonance to think this is the type of development the comprehensive plan was calling for for the future of Brainerd. This is not walkable; this is a giant parking lot in the middle of a TN-2 neighborhood,” Johnson said. “... We’re setting a precedent to let Kingwood just be leveled for excess parking. I don’t think that’s a good idea. TN-2 was not this.”
Despite opposing the other measures thus far, O’Day supported the apartment permit. While it might not be the ideal proposal he was looking for, O’Day said he was looking for higher density housing versus the community of tiny homes Kinney previously envisioned for the property.
The council approved the apartment building permit 6-1, with Johnson the only opposing vote.
Plans for the future
After these buildings are complete, the next phase of Kinney’s plan for Creekside Community is another 12-unit apartment building, bringing the total capacity of the neighborhood to 40-80 residents.
The involvement of volunteers who befriend and act as mentors to the residents will be another vital piece of Creekside Community, nonprofit board member Stephanie Pontius said in the news release.
“We are seeking people in the wider community who understand the need for a friend to come alongside and offer support and encouragement,” she said.
Those interested in volunteering can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org .
My Neighbor to Love Coalition is currently working to complete the first phase of Creekside Community, which is a fourplex on Jackson Street. Construction crews broke ground on the project in October.
Funding is still needed for the project. Donations of any size are welcomed for home sponsorships, and every contributor will be named on a plaque for the unit they helped sponsor. The current goal is to raise $76,000 by Dec. 15 to complete the shell of the structure and allow for interior work to continue this winter.
Donations can be mailed to MNTLC, P.O. Box 581, Nisswa, MN 56468 or made online at mntlc.org .