Former New Brighton school demolished to make way for housing


Construction crews began demolishing the former New Brighton Elementary School on Aug. 14, in order to get the city-owned land ready for sale to Pulte and Dominium. The developers will then build 411 affordable and market-rate units on the 12-acre site, which spans Old Highway 8 where the road jogs east toward City Hall. (Bridget Kranz)

The development, dubbed Midtown Village, is slated to go in on the site of the former New Brighton Elementary School. It will consist of a four-story, 204-unit affordable senior apartment building and 53 market-rate townhomes to the north of Old Highway 8. To the south, there will be a 154-unit, four-story affordable family apartment complex. (file photo)

In preparation for the new development, Seventh Avenue will be converted into a dead end, with a hammerhead turn-around to the south where it curves into Seventh Street. The portion of Seventh Street bordering the former elementary school will be vacated and its two households will get new driveways exiting onto Seventh and Eighth avenues. (courtesy of City of New Brighton)

The proposed Midtown Village, as seen looking west along Old Highway 8. (courtesy of Dominium and BKV)

Midtown Village development moves forward, traffic changes to come

 

Demolition of the former New Brighton Elementary School began Aug. 14 and is almost complete, as the City of New Brighton prepares the site for sale and a 411-unit housing development. 

Although neighbors have had concerns about density throughout the planning process, city officials have cited the need for more affordable housing in the city and are overwhelmingly in support of the project, dubbed Midtown Village.

The new development will consist of a four-story, 204-unit affordable senior apartment building built by Dominium, and 53 townhomes built by Pulte Homes on the site of the former elementary school, to the north of Old Highway 8 between Eighth Avenue and the railroad tracks. 

On adjacent land south of Old Highway 8, Dominium has proposed a four-story, 154-unit affordable family apartment building. 

The teardown of the former school is one of three steps taken over the last few weeks to pave the way for the sale of the city-owned land to Dominium and Pulte. After a $3 million investment in the project by the city, New Brighton stands to bring in roughly $3.6 million from the deal.

On July 23, the city council approved a final site plan for the townhome portion of the development.

On Aug. 13, following a mandatory public hearing where no residents addressed the council, the city also conditionally approved two nearby roadway changes that will facilitate the development. 

Seventh Avenue will be converted into a dead end with a hammerhead turn-around, constructed by Dominium, at its southern end where it abuts the former elementary school site. 

The block-long portion of Seventh Street that runs along the north end of the site will be vacated completely, after Pulte builds the road’s two residents new driveways that will allow them to exit out onto Seventh and Eighth avenues. 

According to Ben Gozola, New Brighton’s assistant director of community assets and development, an exact timeline for this work is yet to be determined. 

Meanwhile, according to neighbor Jeffrey Nelson, a group of roughly 25 residents in opposition to the project continues to look into legal options aimed at delaying work. The group has voiced a number of concerns at public hearings about Midtown Village, with the biggest worry being over density in the primarily single-family home neighborhood.

 

School demolition 

The school demolition began after a month-long cleanup of the building. 

According to City Manager Dean Lotter, all hazardous materials were removed prior to the teardown and the city is having the site watered down as the building is demolished to limit the spread of construction dust.

“The City contracted with an independent third-party expert (TL Erickson) to monitor the abatement process and to ensure all procedures with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and/or County were properly followed,” Gozola said in an email.

Both Nelson and neighbor Debra Perkins noted hearing construction crews moving in equipment around 2 a.m. on Aug. 14, prior to the start of demolition. Outside of that, apart from a few earlier starts, Nelson said work at the former school has happened within the allotted timeframe of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Perkins added that some of the demolition work has caused shaking in her home, leading her to worry about the building’s foundations. 

As of Aug. 21, Gozola reported that most of the building was down. He added that removal of the foundation and other hard surfaces should be finished by early September. 

 

Concerns over density, push for affordable housing

Both the Planning Commission and city council signed off on preliminary plans for the entirety of the project in late spring, following a public hearing where many residents spoke against or expressed concerns about the project. 

Others discussed the need for more affordable housing options in the city, which has a roughly 3% vacancy rate. According to the American Community Survey, half of all rental households in New Brighton are cost-burdened, meaning they are spending more than 30% of their household income on rent. 

The consensus among those opposed to the project is that it’s too dense for the neighborhood. While the site is bordered by commercial land to the south, to the north and west it’s surrounded primarily by single-family homes. 

Conditions placed on the development by the city prior to preliminary approval sought to ease the transition between Midtown Village and existing homes. Pulte has lowered the pitch of its townhome roofs, and is installing landscaping on the north border of the site to provide a visual barrier along Seventh Street. 

Still, many neighbors feel that the biggest decisions, like the overall density, were made quickly and without their input. Dominium has said that significantly reducing the density of the project might make it no longer financially viable, a concern echoed by the city.

At a July 16 planning commission meeting, Gozola noted that the final approval is primarily procedural. “The approval for the development occurs at the preliminary stage.”

In an email, Gozola said he expects Dominium will follow Pulte’s lead and apply for final approval as quickly as possible for its two apartment buildings. 

The city will use tax increment financing to facilitate Dominium’s affordable housing portion of the project. 

According to Gozola, the increase in property tax revenue after the development has been completed will be captured to incrementally reimburse Dominium for its upfront investment.

To this end, the city hopes to capture up to $15 million over 16 years, after which the tax increment financing will end and the entire property tax revenue will be distributed as usual.

Many residents said they are concerned by the fact that TIF will be redirecting a portion of public sector dollars away from general funds, and by the fact that, as of December, the city was still working off a roughly $12 million deficit from active TIF districts.

During the preliminary approval of the project back in May, city officials praised the development as an opportunity for the city to generate revenue through additional investment, one that would not have been possible without the use of TIF. 

“I talk to people all the time that, when they sell their homes, they’re not staying in New Brighton,” said council member Paul Jacobsen, before the approval vote. “And it’s not because they don’t want to stay in New Brighton, it’s because there’s no place to go in New Brighton.”

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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