Housing Project in West St. Paul, Minn., Delayed Due to Environmental Concerns

A West St. Paul project with senior housing and street-level commercial space has been delayed because of environmental issues, and whether the project will have commercial space after all.

Construction was slated to begin late last year or early this year for the 50-unit, $5.5 million project, located on South Robert Street between Annapolis and Hurley streets on the city's northern border. However, demolition has yet to take place on the vacant buildings that occupy the site.

"It's a good news - bad news scenario," said Dan Rogness, director of the Dakota County Community Development Authority, which will own the housing and rent out the subsidized one- and two-bedroom units.

There is thus far no evidence of ground contamination, he said, but workers have already had to remove asbestos wrapped around pipes, and now must deal with ceiling-tile adhesive, which also must be removed before the building can be torn down. Demolition contractor Carl Bolander and Sons is working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the removal issues, Rogness said.

But the project may look quite different from its original vision, as Dakota County mulls the wisdom of including commercial space in the project. A similar project in Lakeville has seen its commercial space sit vacant since it opened, making project officials a little gun-shy about the West St. Paul plan.

"One of the challenges is that these commercial spaces are brand new, with brick exteriors that are very spendy to build," which drives up rental rates, he said. If those rates are too high for that area of the city, that could lower the spaces' attractiveness to potential tenants.

Rogness says the CDA plans to research other mixed-use projects under construction in Robbinsdale and Chaska to get a better sense of the overall market conditions.

The CDA also is keeping its eye on another mixed-use project slated for across the street, which is being proposed by the Bloomington-based Cornerstone Group.

"There are two ways to look at it, and we're not sure which side to fall whether the market could support our commercial space as well as theirs, or if they're going to do commercial, maybe we don't have to," he said.

Rogness said the CDA would likely decide in March whether to go solely with senior housing or the mixed-use facility originally planned. If the CDA goes ahead with the commercial space portion, it would likely also own the space and lease to commercial tenants.

People 55 and older would occupy the apartments. To qualify, a one-person household must have annual income of less than $36,750; for two people the limit is $42,000

600450 Housing Project in West St. Paul, Minn., Delayed Due to Environmental Concerns glassonweb.com

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