Developers seek approval for small cottage housing development in northwest Brainerd
The Brainerd Planning Commission wants to see the project move forward as long as a few concerns are addressed
BRAINERD — A proposal for a supportive housing development with small cottages in Brainerd has general support from the city’s Planning Commission as long as a few concerns are addressed.
Vicky Kinney went before the Planning Commission Wednesday, Jan. 19, to outline her plan, which consists of three phases of development between Northwest Second and Fourth streets, and between James Street and Riverside Drive.
Kinney works with a nonprofit called My Neighbor to Love Coalition, which aims to create safe, affordable housing options for those who may have recently experienced homelessness, are disabled or are recovering from addiction. The cottages — at about 288 square feet and 384 square feet — would be rented out on a month-to-month basis, with the small size designed to keep rent low.
“The idea is encouraging community and more of a neighborhood feel,” Kinney said. “... We’re trying to develop an environment that is a beautiful environment that’s very park-like and very healing for a lot of people.”
The first phase would be constructing 10-15 cottages on the two lots north of Jackson Street, along with an additional structure to be used as an arts/hobby room.
The second phase would be to develop the lots on the steep slope north of James Street between Northwest Second and Northwest Third streets with about 20 cottages, a community center, gardens, a park and a playground.
Both of the neighborhoods in the first and second phases would be fenced and gated, with only the residents having access to the gate.
Depending on need and funding, the third phase would be to either expand the supportive housing units or build a neighborhood with small single-family homes for sale.
The idea is encouraging community and more of a neighborhood feel,
The plan also calls for various services available on site, Kinney said, including mental health services and spaces for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to meet and to host educational and employment training classes.
Kinney used the Simple Life development, which has supportive housing communities in North Carolina and Florida, as an example of similar programs in the country and what the development could look like. According to the Simple Life website, the community has been thriving since its inception in 2015 and continues to expand with more innovative home offerings. While there are not any other supportive housing communities in operation in Minnesota, she said one is in the works in Minneapolis.
A property manager would ideally be on site, Kinney said, and property maintenance could happen a couple different ways. Residents who wanted supplemental income could do work, like shoveling and mowing, or the work could be contracted out to other companies if need be.
With the gate and fencing, any guests visiting the communities would have to check in, and residents would be responsible for their guests.
Commissioner Kevin Yeager asked how a gate and fence would promote a neighborhood feel. Kinney said the fence would be more about protecting the residents inside the community, as some may be developmentally challenged and in danger of others taken advantage of them. The gate could also help prohibit crime.
Later in the meeting, Yeager said he appreciated the proposal and the kind of work Kinney and her nonprofit are doing but still felt like the fencing sends the wrong message and creates a feeling of someone either belonging inside or outside of the neighborhood.
Commissioners also brought forth concerns about a better use of the land in question, noting it’s a prime location for higher density housing. As additional housing is a key component of the city’s comprehensive plan, Commission Chair Mike Duval said he would have a hard time giving up that land to lower density housing and suggested something better suited to meet the community’s needs, like an apartment complex, as an alternative to the third phase of the plan.
Commissioner Don Gorham said he understands the concern but reminded the commission it wasn’t long ago that this property was proposed as a site for storage units.
“Maybe we need to look at this as one bird in the hand versus two in the bush, right?” Gorham said. “This is something that’s tangible — not on the table yet — but is coming together, as opposed to waiting for a private developer to come along and build high-density housing, which may or may not happen.”
Gorham said he was inclined to like the proposal but a final plan could look much different than the concept in front of the commission now.
Commissioner Matt Kallroos said the concept is cool, and it would be unique for Brainerd to be one of the first examples of supportive housing in the state. This community would be beneficial to those who are struggling with housing, but he also questioned if an affordable housing complex could reach even more people in need.
Commissioner Theresa Woodward said she liked the idea of a gated community, as there are not many places in Brainerd for people — like domestic abuse victims — looking for that kind of security. Seeing at least a portion of the property go to a gated community would be neat, she said, while the rest could still be used for single-family homes or higher density housing.
The only person who spoke during the public forum Wednesday night was Sheila Haverkamp, who owns various sober homes throughout Brainerd, including two on Tyrol Drive, which is just east of the proposed development area. She said she talked with Kinney about how their endeavors can support each other but added harmony with the surrounding community is something that will have be taken into account.
Haverkamp mentioned the Tuesday city council meeting, during which a heated public forum took place. Tyrol Drive residents brought up various concerns with the sober homes in their neighborhood, like safety and drug use. During that meeting Tuesday, Haverkamp spoke and tried to quell the concerns but said she felt like neighbors were unfairly judging and discriminating against residents of the sober homes.
She told the Planning Commission Wednesday it would be beneficial for an in-depth information packet to be distributed among those living near the proposed development so conversations can take place in advance.
“I do think that this project and the Tyrol Hills neighborhood are going to somehow have to find this balance so that there’s harmony and peace in our community and good neighbors and goodwill and good friendship,” Haverkamp said.
Kinney said she received two phone calls on the project and had positive conversations with both people, and Community Development Director David Chanski said he has not received any public communication.
Commissioners ultimately agreed they were generally in favor of the proposal but had four main concerns — neighborhood harmony, the possibility of higher density housing, what exactly the site would look like and the timeline on each of the phases.
They approved a motion to support the concept but ask Kinney to come back before the commission with ideas on how to address those concerns. That recommendation, which the commission approved unanimously, will now go before the city council at its next meeting Feb. 7. Council members can give their input, bring forth any other concerns and decide how they want to move forward.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.