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North Kelsey apartments still game at council

MONROE — The City Council discussed ongoing concerns with the proposed mixed-use development of the North Kelsey site during their meeting June 18, and they will discuss the property again on June 25 after press time. City Administrator Deborah Knight presented the council with feedback from Monroe’s Planning Commission, Economic Development Advisory Board and public comments.
City leaders entered into a memorandum of understanding in March to explore selling the approximate 10 vacant acres, located along T
jerne Place in front of Lowe’s, to Seattle-based Tarragon Properties. The city has owned the North Kelsey land since 2005 with the intent to develop it into a lifestyle and retail center.
Tarragon submitted a proposal to develop 180 three-story units of market priced housing among 15 buildings consisting of one- and two-bedroom apartments. There would be multiple outdoor spaces as well as room to construct retail locations on the east end of the property.
The primary concern asked to council members was how the proposed complex would fit in with the city’s overall vision. While most seemed to feel that the contemporary look and feel of the wood framed buildings is fine, there were questions about the height, density and potential for retail.
Knight said the city had anticipated a “podium style” development where each building has a concrete structure on the bottom for either parking or retail with multiple stories of the residential units above that.
“Right now, we are talking about (a) three story walk-up in the conceptual plan and what we were all envisioning, I think, was a five and six story building with that retail kind of incorporated,” she said.
The council questioned whether spreading the retail throughout the complex’s buildings rather than placing it on one end of the property would be a better fit for the community and its future residents. According to Knight, from Tarragon’s perspective the current market rent prices in Monroe don’t support a return on investment for constructing a podium style development.
Councilman Jason Gamble said he liked the design and wasn’t hung up on a higher development because he thinks there’s not enough available rental housing in Monroe and this partly comes down to economics. Although, he also thought that the planned commercial buildings would be more interspersed throughout rather than on the edge of the complex.
The council decided the currently proposed three-story height is not a deal breaker for the city and felt it is appropriate for the site.
The second issue discussed was the potential impact on the area’s traffic. The council heard that a 2018 traffic model from Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants indicated that a mixture of housing and retail wouldn’t have any significant impacts on the surrounding streets. Knight said the proposal’s 1.7 parking stalls per unit exceeds the city’s standard of 1.5 for a multi-family development.
Council members discussed affordable housing in Monroe, and were told about public comments and a prior meeting for the planning commission and economic development advisory board about this project. Council members largely responded they didn’t believe this was an appropriate site for
affordable housing, and agreed that the site is better for the proposed market priced housing. Councilman Jeff Rasmussen mentioned the soon-to-open River’s Edge Apartments as a way the city is addressing affordable housing within the community.
Other concerns addressed were the possibility of developer incentives and school overcrowding. Knight said that Tarragon had not asked for incentives and there had been no discussions about them. She also told the council that after talking to Monroe School District Superintendent Fredrika Smith there’s currently no concern about overcrowding.
The council ultimately decided to make sure that Tarragon purchases the entire property and not be allowed to potentially carve off two parcels. Council members said they would like to see more retail in the plans and that part of the challenge going forward will be how to activate these commercial developments. There was a discussion but no consensus about whether or not to restrict the types of businesses allowed and also how covenants already in place with Lowe’s would affect that process.
The council also determined that if need be, they could potentially extend the memorandum of understanding ending on June 24. Input from the council’s meeting was provided to Tarragon before they make their presentation and offer to purchase on June 25.
A city official said last week it has the flexibility to not take Tarragon’s deal and pay off its bond debt on the North Kelsey area.
Monroe owes approximately $2.8 million left to pay by fall 2020; the city has enough money set aside to be able to make the final bond payment, a city official at the meeting said. It doesn’t need to sell this property in order to make the debt service payment.
The city bought the massive acreage in 2005 and has been selling it in pieces.
The next step, if the council then decides to, would be to enter into a letter of intent to further refine a purchase and sale agreement for the land.



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