Proposed church in St. Michael hits snag

This is the concept plan for Westbridge Church and an adjoining housing site, located in the Town Center area of St. Michael. Costs from the future extension of Edgewood Drive could preclude development, the church told the city council.
This is the concept plan for Westbridge Church and an adjoining housing site, located in the Town Center area of St. Michael. Costs from the future extension of Edgewood Drive could preclude development, the church told the city council.

The St. Michael City Council reiterated its support for a new church at the Town Center area in downtown — but not at the expense of the city’s taxpayers.

Westbridge Church representatives told the city council that if requiring the church to help pay for extension of Edgewood Drive is not somehow mitigated, Westbridge won’t be able to afford construction of a new church and affordable housing site.

The council also took action on other issues at the council meeting (see separate story regarding a residential project proposed for a site just south of STMA High School).

DEVELOPER’S AGREEMENT

Not only could the church not afford paying for the road project, Rev. Jeremiah Curran said it probably wouldn’t have purchased the site in the first place had it understood that a previously negotiated developer’s agreement with the former property owner is still in effect.

“Our goal is — we’ve had many conversations with city staff — asking you to consider a development agreement that works for everyone,” Curran said. The original development agreement is for 180 acres in the Town Center area just northwest of city hall.

“It seems we’re at a crossroads,” Curran said. “We’re looking for some direction on a new path forward for all parties involved.”

Mayor Kevin Kasel reminded Curran that this area has been “in the works for a long time.” Edgewood Avenue — which the city plans to extend north for a connection to Albertville’s Main Avenue — is a contentious issue, Kasel admitted, “But we believe it’s necessary. We need to do what’s best for the city long term.”

Kasel said rewriting the rules surrounding developer agreements poses risk to the city and its taxpayers, and that “there are things in the developer’s agreement that we believe needs to be adhered to.”

Curran questioned why extending Edgewood is such a priority. The council responded that the road is in the heart of St. Michael’s downtown, and that there are only two main connections to the north — County Rd. 19 and McIver Avenue.

Councilor Cody Gulick added, “These connections will get busier as we grow. It evens the flow of traffic throughout the city. In the long run it saves money to do this now versus five to 10 years down the road. Do it as it develops.”

MIDDLE GROUND

Curran asked if there was a middle ground so that the church doesn’t bear “the weight of all the costs.”

Kassel responded, “We can’t look at this differently because it’s a church. We need to treat development equally.”

Kassel said treating this site differently sets the city up for dangerous precedent. “It could also set us up for lawsuits — ‘You did it for them, why not do it for us?’ — It’s not this project, but we can’t look the other way.”

Staff noted the difficulty of the current Edgewood Avenue extension through a wetland, which brings extra costs, and wondered if the route could be redirected. “It’s hard for us to get into the financial details of what makes sense,” Community Development Director Marc Weigle said.

City Administrator Steve Bot said the city still has the issue of how Edgweood will be connected.

Councilor Matt Kammann suggested hosting a work session to discuss all the possibilities.

Kassel reiterated there is no desire by the council to change policy. He said to Rev. Curran, “Unfortunately you have some tough decisions to make. The toughest part of our job is to say no to people. But we’re not treating you any differently as anyone else.”

Anya Beck, a representative for Westbridge, said the developer’s agreement and Edgewood Avenue extension “were never brought up” until within the last two months. Had the church been aware of costs associated with constructing Edgewood, “We would have made a very different (purchasing) decision,” Beck said, “and now we’re sitting on land we potentially can’t afford to build on.”

City attorney Dave Lenhardt reminded Curran and Beck that the developer’s agreement is a public document, and that it’s not the city’s responsibility for the potential buyer to be aware. “The title company should have seen the developer’s agreement,” he said.

Curran responded that his church assumed they weren’t part of the original development agreement.

Gulick said the city hopes the church and residential development will happen. “We need affordable housing. I sure hope there is a solution, we just haven’t found it yet,” he said.

Councilor Keith Wettschreck indicated he is not in favor of changing city policy “right now.”

The city agreed it would analyze potential solutions at a work session, including, as recommended by councilor Kammann, to understand precedence for arterial roadways and tying that into transportation goals.

In other action, the council:

APPROVED the Chad Smith Memorial 5K Run for Life event planned for Saturday, June 17. The race will start in downtown St. Michael, head southeast to the city’s Lower Rec Park, and back north to downtown.

AUTHORIZED purchasing 522 additional 95-gallon recycling carts at a cost of $25,695. Staff said the public’s response to larger carts was an overwhelming success.