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Planning commission to revisit supportive housing proposal in Brainerd

The planning commission will review the plan again Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Supportive housing site plan.JPG
A design rendering shows the site plan for a proposed supportive housing development in northwest Brainerd.
Contributed

BRAINERD — A proposal for a supportive housing development in Brainerd will again be in front of the planning commission this week after a majority of City Council members declined to support it.

Council members voted 3-4 Feb. 7, to not support Vicky Kinney’s proposal for a development of small cottages in northwest Brainerd until there was more information and a more thorough project outline.

“The project clearly isn’t ready,” council member Mike O’Day said. “So I’m not going to support this motion. I think this developer can always come back with a more thorough idea.”

Without an official site plan submitted, council members Gabe Johnson, Kevin Stunek and Kelly Bevans agreed, saying there was not enough information presented to get a solid feel for the project.

They also had doubts about the location.

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Kinney’s proposal consisted of three phases of development on property 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.

Drawings and photos of small homes or cottages.
Examples of small homes and cottages were included in the developer's concept, which was presented to the city of Brainerd.
Contributed / City of Brainerd

The roughly 45 housing units in her plan are small cottages — about 288 square feet and 384 square feet — that would be rented out on a month-to-month basis, with the small sizes designed to keep rent low. Homeless people would be given top priority, Kinney said in an interview with the Dispatch, as the goal is to help out those most in need and also reduce the amount of money the county spends on resources for those people.

“The chronically homeless are going to be our first priority, of course, and then the people that are housing insecure, so it’s going to be mostly people that are having difficulty affording rent,” she said. “So not just people that say, ‘I love tiny houses, they’re cool, I want to live in one,’ and then take away a home from a single mom who’s got two kids and can’t afford her rent. So we’re primarily targeting those people that really do need lower cost housing.”

Kinney does, however, envision about 20% of the housing to be available for what she calls “missional” people, or those who want to live in there and be supportive friends to the rest of the neighborhood.

Included in the proposal with the cottages are a community center, gardens, a park and a playground, all in a gated community, which Kinney has said is an effort to keep residents safe. Potential residents might be seeking shelter from domestic violence in their past, and the gate, she said, would give them better security.

Various services would be available on site, including mental health services and spaces for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to meet and to host educational and employment training classes.

The Brainerd Planning Commission wants to see the project move forward as long as a few concerns are addressed

A property manager would ideally be on site, and property maintenance could happen a couple different ways. Residents who wanted supplemental income could do tasks like shoveling or mowing, or the work could be contracted out if need be.

While planning commissioners had concerns about the project, they gave Kinney their general support, provided that she come back with responses to those concerns, which included harmony with the surrounding neighborhood, the possibility of higher density housing on some of the property in question, what exactly the project would look like and the timeline of each phase.

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Council members got the opportunity to vote on the same measure and shared some of those concerns, especially the idea that the location would be better suited for higher density housing, like apartments, which Brainerd sorely needs.

Johnson encouraged Kinney to come back with a more concrete proposal, while Bevans said he would rather be cautious and hear more details of the plan before approving anything. Council member Tad Erickson, liaison to the planning commission, said Feb. 7 he understood the concerns but would still support the measure after being involved in the conversation with the commission. Tiffany Stenglein and Dave Pritschet also supported the measure, though it was defeated with opposing votes from O’Day, Johnson, Stunek and Bevans.

So we’re primarily targeting those people that really do need lower cost housing,
Vicky Kinney

Kinney said in a phone interview the day after the council meeting she was frustrated and did not feel like the council fully understood her plan. She was hoping for more questions from the council and constructive feedback.

“The original planning meeting was really just about the concept and then to get public opinion from the neighbors,” Kinney said. “We just wanted to make sure there wasn’t any pushback, so we really didn’t have a site plan and all the details ready because that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting.”

Kaiser Health News recently reported on a development of tiny homes in Wisconsin describing it as tucked inside a residential neighborhood, surrounded by a wood fence and greenery that fits in the community. The little houses in Madison, Wisconsin, are a spinoff of a national movement against income inequality, the news organization reported.

The effort in Madison offers a path to tiny home ownership. “With housing costs rising, tiny homes are spreading as a solution to homelesness in California, Indiana, Missouri, Oregon and beyond,” Kaiser Health News reported. “Zoning regulations and building codes have prevented tiny homes from being built in some cities, as have concerned neighbors. That opposition often fades once the communities are up and running, according to village organizers.”

Trying again

Kinney will go back before the planning commission Wednesday, Feb. 16, to resubmit her proposal, present a site plan and provide answers to the questions commissioners had.

The new site plan shows the layout of the cottages, parking spots and greenspaces for the first two phases of the project.

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In response to the desire for higher density housing, Kinney is content to wait on phase 3 of the plan — which was initially going to be either more cottages or larger single-family homes depending on needs — and leaving the area between Northwest Third and Fourth streets open for other potential development.

The location for the first two phases, Kinney said, is the most promising spot she has found so far for the project.

A snowy road with thick growth of trees on both sides.
The view from Northwest Third Street in Brainerd.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

“Our feeling is that we’re offering to put in a housing development of potentially 45 units, as opposed to leaving the land blank and nobody else stepping up,” Kinney said.

In terms of harmony with existing neighbors, Kinney said she wrote to each resident in the surrounding area and encouraged them to come to various informational meetings about the project. While she has had conversations with some and answered questions, she said she has not received any negative reactions or pushback against the project.

Depending on grant availability and other funding opportunities, Kinney said she would hope to begin construction on phase 1 this summer and have it completed by the end of the year. The timing for phase 2 would be partially contingent on the success of the first phase, but construction could begin as early as spring 2023 and be completed by the end of next year. There is no risk to the city if phase 2 is not completed, Kinney writes in her memo to the planning commission, as the land would simply remain vacant and available for another development project.

The planning commission, which meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, will review the new concept plan and is expected to make a new recommendation to the City Council.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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