by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona may annex more of Wilson Township and allow a 36-unit cooperative senior housing development in Pleasant Valley on the edge of city limits.
Mankato, Minn.,-based Bradford Development is the company behind the Willow Brook Cooperative in East Burns Valley in Winona. The firm proposed building a similar, owner-occupied senior-living complex on County Road 17, just across from Signatures Restaurant, on land owned by Houston, Minn., resident Mitch Bublitz. Bublitz’s steep valley property was recently logged, and some Winona City Council members raised concerns about how that would affect erosion and runoff in the area. City staff also reported that it is possible future developments at the site might encroach on the city’s bluff protection setbacks.
The proposed site is currently part of Wilson Township, and the Winona City Council would have to annex the property and zone it R-3 (multi-family residential) to allow the development. On Monday, the City Council showed tentative support for that plan and gave city staff the green light to bring the development — dubbed Cedar Brook Cooperative — forward for formal approvals.
In Pleasant Valley, the city of Winona shares a checkerboard border with Wilson Township. The city spent a few million dollars extending sewer and water lines south along County Road 17 in the 2000s, and, under a 2005 deal between the township and the city, rural township residents had the option to join the city. Some did and some didn’t, leaving a patchwork of city land surrounded by township territory and vice versa — most notably the Philips Subdivision, or Cobblestone Creek neighborhood, an island of city land over a mile away from edge of the city proper.
The 2005 deal between the city and township expired in 2015, and now the two governments handle individual annexation petitions on a case-by-case basis.
Bublitz’s land is in this checkerboard area. It’s surrounded on either side by township residents’ single-family homes. Just across the road, Signatures is in city territory, and city sewer and water lines already lead past the property.
The nearby city properties have much lower-density zoning than the proposed R-3 zoning for the Cedar Brook site.
There is a need for more independent senior housing in Winona, according to the city’s own housing study. Bradford Development reported that it has 43 people on the waiting list for Willow Brook Cooperative and 32 residents have already reserved spaces in the planned Cedar Brook Cooperative. Similar to condominiums, cooperative housing buildings offer residents the chance to own their own home, but live in a communal building where maintenance services are provided by the company.
“I’m comfortable,” City Council member Michelle Alexander said of seeing the project move forward. City staff had sought the council’s blessing to ask the Wilson Town Board if it would agree to the annexation. If the township opposes, the city has options to annex the land anyway.
There is still a lengthy approval process with multiple public hearings before anything is built, Alexander noted. “I’m very happy that we’re developing in a place where we already have sewer and water instead of ballooning it to another location,” she stated.
Council member George Borzyskowski, who represents the area, and council member Al Thurley agreed.
Alluding to city leaders’ dreams of expanding into Pleasant Valley, Thurley said, “Over the years it’s probably taken longer than some would like, but it’s a direction we’ve been going in for many years.” He said he would like to see the city continue to grow to the south.
Council members Paul Schollmeier and Pam Eyden raised some environmental concerns, but did not oppose the project moving forward.
With all the tree-clearing that took place in the valley above the site, Schollmeier said he wanted to see some improvements put in place to collect and absorb stormwater further up the valley rather than allowing it to runoff downhill into the development.
Eyden, too, stated that the logging of the hillside could create erosion and runoff problems. “That needs to be watched as well, because that’s going to have ongoing effects,” she said of the logging.
While the Cedar Brook site itself is relatively small — just six acres near the road — city planner Carlos Espinosa said that the landowner might be interested, at some point in the future, in developing the 100-plus acres Bublitz owns uphill of the Cedar Brook site. Referring to stormwater rules and restrictions against building on bluff lands, Schollmeier said, “If that’s not developable, the landowner should know it’s not developable. It might be a better idea to get some trees back on there.”
City manager Steve Sarvi argued that it might be in the city’s best interests to annex all of Bublitz’s land now, not just the few acres for the Cedar Brook Cooperative, because then the city could better control those environmental issues.
Thurley asked whether Bradford Development had considered any other sites in the city for the new housing development. Espinosa said the company had, but that it looks for a certain kind of property. Several of the company’s developments are on the edge of towns.
The Wilson Town Board Chair was not immediately available for comment.
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