Neighbors Oppose Apartment, But Density Is a Win for West St. Paul

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A proposed four-story apartment complex on the former Thompson Oaks golf course is facing opposition from neighbors—including a form letter from 54 residents. While I get that residents might begrudge changes to their neighborhood, I think overall this project and others like it are a big win for West St. Paul.

What’s Being Proposed

There are a couple separate projects proposed for the former golf course. We’re specifically looking at the four-story, 153-unit apartment complex on the northwest corner of the property at 240 Thompson Ave. E. proposed by Oppidan Investment Company.

Because much of the soil on the city-owned, former golf course requires expensive remediation, there’s not a lot of usable land. This is part of why a high-density project makes sense. There’s simply not room to spread out.

And in a way, that’s good news, because it brings us to the second project.

Dakota County is proposing a watershed reclamation project for a significant chunk of the property. This would maintain open space, resurface a creek through the property, include trails around the ponds, and ensure alignment of the River-to-River Greenway Trail.

There’s also the potential for townhomes on the eastern portion of the site, but there’s no specific proposal yet.

These are separate projects, but taken together they allow West St. Paul to maintain green space, create an attractive route for the Greenway trail, and bring needed housing—all wins for the city.

The Opposition

Neighbor opposition to the proposed apartment has included a few individual letters with specific complaints, as well as that form letter that simply states, “the project is not a suitable development for the site and it negatively impacts the entire Thompson Oaks neighborhood.”

Some of the specific complaints have included site lines, drainage issues, tree removal, and traffic. The city has addressed many of these issues with the developer and they’ve been translated into requirements for approval (including a traffic study, maintaining a line of trees, re-orienting parking, privacy, etc.).

  • Traffic: Dakota County is conducting a study, primarily to determine if the apartment’s access on Thompson should be across from Carrie Street or not (if so, that will be required for approval). The county isn’t concerned about additional traffic. There’s something like 9,000 daily cars on that stretch of Thompson. A 153-unit apartment isn’t going to overwhelm Thompson’s capacity by any stretch. It does sound like other measures, like turn lanes, might be considered.
  • Trees: A stand of mature trees along the western property line is being maintained, when initially it wasn’t certain if they could be saved.
  • Parking: A row of parking that could have had headlights shining into adjoining properties has been moved.
  • Privacy: A dog walk area is being moved to the opposite side of the building from neighbors and a berm is being added to the north side.

And those are just a few of the conditions placed on the project to address concerns of neighbors.

Why It’s a Good Project

Criticism for new apartments in West St. Paul is not unique to this project. Neighbors complained about the Rooftop 252 project on Marie Ave. The proposed four-story workforce and five-story senior living complexes on the former Kmart site also drew all kinds of online critique. The arguments vary and seem to come from all sides, but let’s see what we can do to address this particular project.

1. More Housing

First of all, West St. Paul needs more multi-family housing. People argue that we don’t, but the research says otherwise. Five separate city planning documents note the need for more multi-family housing—some specifically cite the golf course as a potential opportunity.

West St. Paul is growing and we need places for people to live. Plus vacancy rates are low and existing housing is tight. The new Rooftop 252 apartment that opened in July is already fully leased.

There’s a clear need, and this project helps meet it.

2. Density

As a fully developed first-ring suburb, West St. Paul doesn’t have a lot of places to grow. Where do we put that needed housing?

When we have these opportunities to grow, we need density.

How many single family homes would fit on this parcel? Half a dozen, at best? Compare that with 153 units and we’re getting a lot more bang for our buck.

3. Trails & Open Space

While the green space is not a direct part of this project, this high density use better enables us to preserve some green space. We’re making the most of the land we have, and still getting trails and open space out of the deal. I think that’s a win.

And it’s going to be a huge win for the immediate neighbors who live near all that green space—much more accessible than it ever was as a golf course.

They might not like having an apartment building as a neighbor, but trails, a creek, and green space are pretty good amenities.

4. Tax & Commercial Base

This project expands both our tax and commercial base, significantly more than if it were a development of single-family homes. The estimated annual property tax is $348,000.

With the addition of the sales tax, more people means more money for the city coffers. That means we can better spread out city costs and minimize levy increases.

This kind of density also means more paying customers for nearby businesses. That’s a boon to local businesses and further enticement for new businesses to come to town.

When people complain about not wanting apartments, they often cite the need for more amenities like restaurants. Well, if you want businesses like that to come to West St. Paul and succeed, we need more people to support them. This project helps expand that commercial base.

Yes in My Backyard

Some of the opposition to this project—and other similar projects—seems to be along the lines of ‘not in my back yard’ (NIMBY). In this case, I get it. You’ve been looking at a freshly manicured golf course for more than 20 years, and that’s not a bad view (albeit, a city-subsidized view). A four-story building kind of ruins that view.

But things change. We have little control over what our neighbors do.

Yeah, it’s easy for me to say that when I live more than two miles away.

However, I’m in a similar situation. I can see the Doddway Center from my kitchen window. While there aren’t any proposals yet, all the talk about redevelopment of Smith and Dodd has included high-density re-development of the Doddway Center.

In the not-too-distant future, I’m likely looking out my window at a four-story building.

I say, bring it on.

A mixed-use building with Oxendale’s and restaurants on the first floor and apartments above? That kind of density could revitalize the area. It’d be a boost to nearby restaurants such as Morelos or the yet-to-materialize Food Smith.

So yes, I want more density in West St. Paul, and yes, I welcome it in my own backyard.

Overall Win for West St. Paul

I’m not going to pretend this is a perfect project and I absolutely love it. It’s hard to get excited about an apartment building. There are probably things I’d like to tweak and improve—but I’m not a developer.

Overall, I think it’s a good project that has multiple benefits for West St. Paul as a whole. I think the city and the developer have listened to neighbor complaints and made a number of changes to the plan to accommodate those concerns. I think that’s the best you can ask for.

So What’s Next?

This project comes before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 15. You can attend and voice your support for the project.

It will likely come before the West St. Paul city council on Monday, Oct. 28, and that’s another opportunity to voice support.

If you’re not able to attend either meeting, you can also contact the Planning Commission members or your city council representatives and voice your support.

4 comments

  1. Do you have a link to the neighbor letter? I, broadly speaking, agree with these arguments, but I like to read both sides.

    Thanks!

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