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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
City backs $8M housing plans (06/05/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Two buildings that have housed lower-income Winonans for decades may soon be overhauled. Winona may see $8 million dollars in renovations flow to local contractors and bolster city tax rolls. Two companies are separately applying for tax breaks to enable them to purchase and remodel Winhaven Court and Morningside Terrace. If approved by the state, work to revamp the two privately-run, low-income housing developments might begin in 2015.

The tax breaks, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) administered by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA), are highly competitive. The two companies will find out whether either, one, or both will receive the credits in October or November of this year. The MFHA provides LIHTC to private developers who meet requirements, including a cap on rental prices, as an incentive for private industry to provide affordable housing.

On Monday, the Winona City Council voted unanimously to approve a letter of support for the two projects and to recognize their place in the city's plans for housing and redevelopment.

Built in 1972 on Sugar Loaf Road, Morningside Terrace provides housing for up to 69 low-income residents. Winhaven Court, located in downtown Winona, was constructed in 1979 and houses up to 118 senior and disabled residents.

"These buildings are quite a few years old and could use some renovations," said Winona Community Development Director Lucy McMartin, who discussed the projects with company officials.

Winhaven Court LP is a subsidiary of a Seattle-based development firm that seeks to purchase Winhaven Court and spend nearly $3 million on overhauling the building, from rooms to heating systems. Bryon Gongaware, a spokesperson for the company, said that residents will not have to leave the apartment building during the remodel.

"We try to make sure that we renovate in a way that is the least inconvenient to tenants," he said. Often, the company shuffles residents around to temporary apartments while work is done on a handful of units at at a time, he said. That work generally takes one to two weeks, Gongaware explained, meaning that residents are not out of their apartments for long. He added that in rare cases, the company will house residents in a hotel while work is being done. The whole process is estimated to take a year.

Minneapolis-based Community Capital Financial Advisory Services, Inc. which is seeking to purchase and remodel Morningside Terrace at a cost of $5 million, could not be reached for comment.

"These would be great renovation projects for the city," McMartin said, pointing out the need for affordable housing, the community benefit of revitalized buildings, the construction investment, and the fact that improvements to the properties would increase the city's tax base.

Family's appeal for dog grooming business denied

An emotional appeal ran up against the law on Monday night. Several city council members said they would have liked to approve a variance to allow Kemlyn Block-Stockstill and Thomas Stockstill Jr. to hire an additional employee or two at their home dog-grooming business, but the law clearly prevented it. The Stockstills sought a variance from the Board of Adjustment to give them an exception to zoning rules that forbid more than one non-resident employee to work for a home business.

The board denied their variance on the grounds that it did not meet state requirements—in particular, that the Stockstill's request was not based on a issue with the property not created by the Stockstills and that economics were the family's primary consideration. The board concluded if the Stockstills wanted to expand their business and hire more employees, they needed to find a location in a business district.

The Stockstills did not tell the Board of Adjustment that their son is developmentally disabled, and that his special needs preclude Kemlyn from working away from home. The Stockstills asked the council to reconsider the board's decisions, saying that their neighbors are in resolute support of the business and that they could never afford a storefront in a business district, much less leave their son home alone.

City Attorney Chris Hood advised the council that the case was clear cut, in his professional opinion: the Stockstills did not meet the legal standard for granting a variance. They did not have a difficulty with their property, as state statute requires for a variance, but rather with how they sought to use it, he said. Furthermore, economics were clearly a main factor in the Stockstills' request, Hood said.

"I think most of us would agree this is a legitimate reason to give a variance, but our hands are tied because of the wording," said council member Paul Double.

Council Member Allyn Thurley also expressed regret in denying the Stockstills' appeal. Perhaps the city should consider amending the restrictions on home businesses, he suggested. Hood said that would be a much more appropriate approach.



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