BRAINERD – A proposal for a supportive housing development with small cottages in Brainerd has broad support from the town’s Planning Commission as long as a few concerns are addressed.
Vicky Kinney appeared before the Planning Commission on Wednesday January 19 to present her plan, which consists of three phases of development between Northwest Second and Fourth streets, and between James Street and Riverside Drive.
Kinney works with a nonprofit called My Neighbor to Love Coalition, which aims to create safe and affordable housing options for those who have recently experienced homelessness, are disabled, or are recovering from addiction. The chalets – around 288 square feet and 384 square feet – would be rented on a monthly basis, with the small size designed to keep rent low.
“The idea is to encourage community and more of a neighborhood feel,” Kinney said. “…We’re trying to develop an environment that’s a beautiful environment that’s a lot like a park and is very calming for a lot of people.”
The first phase would consist of building 10 to 15 cottages on the two lots north of Jackson Street, along with an additional structure to be used as an arts/hobby room.
The second phase would be to develop the lots on the steep slope north of James Street between Northwest Second and Northwest Third streets with approximately 20 cottages, a community center, gardens, park and playground.
Both the first and second phase neighborhoods would be fenced and gated, with only residents having access to the gate.
Depending on needs and funding, the third phase would either expand supportive housing or build a neighborhood with small single-family homes for sale.
The idea is to encourage community and more of a neighborhood feel,
The plan also makes various services available on-site, Kinney said, including mental health services and spaces for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to meet and hold education and job training classes.
Kinney used the Simple Life development, which has supportive housing communities in North Carolina and Florida, as an example of similar programs around the country and what the development might look like. According to the Simple Life website, the community has been thriving since its inception in 2015 and continues to grow with more innovative home offerings. While there are no other supportive housing communities operating in Minnesota, she said one is in the works in Minneapolis.
A property manager would ideally be on site, Kinney said, and maintenance of the property could be done in a variety of ways. Residents who wanted extra income could do jobs, such as shoveling and mowing, or the work could be contracted out to other companies if needed.
With the gate and fence, all guests visiting the communities would need to check in and residents would be responsible for their guests.
Commissioner Kevin Yeager asked how a gate and fence would foster a neighborhood vibe. Kinney said the fence would be more about protecting residents inside the community, as some may struggle with development and be in danger of others taking advantage. The gate could also help to interdict crime.
Later in the meeting, Yeager said he appreciated the proposal and the kind of work Kinney and his nonprofit were doing, but he still felt like fencing was sending the wrong message and creating. the feeling that someone belonged inside or outside the neighborhood.
Commissioners also raised concerns about making better use of the land in question, noting that it is a prime location for higher density housing. As additional housing is a key part of the city’s overall plan, Commission Chairman Mike Duval said he would be hard-pressed to give up that land for low-density housing and suggested something better suited. to meet the needs of the community, as an apartment complex, as an alternative to the third phase of the plan.
Commissioner Don Gorham said he understood the concern, but reminded the panel that not too long ago this property had been proposed as a site for storage units.
“Maybe we should consider this as one bird in the hand versus two in the bush, right?” Gorham said. “It’s something tangible – not on the table yet – but happening, instead of waiting for a private developer to come in and build high-density housing, which may or may not happen.”
Gorham said he was inclined to like the proposal, but a final plan could be very different from the concept currently presented to the commission.
Commissioner Matt Kallroos said the concept was cool and it would be unique for Brainerd to be one of the first examples of supportive housing in the state. This community would benefit those struggling to find housing, but he also wondered if an affordable housing complex could reach even more people in need.
Commissioner Theresa Woodward said she likes the idea of a gated community because there aren’t many places in Brainerd for people – like victims of domestic violence – looking for that kind of security. Seeing at least part of the property go into a gated community would be nice, she said, while the rest could still be used for single-family homes or higher-density housing.
The only person who spoke at the public forum on Wednesday evening was Sheila Haverkamp, who owns several sober houses in Brainerd, including two on Tyrol Drive, which is just east of the proposed development area. She said she spoke with Kinney about how their efforts can support each other, but the added harmony with the surrounding community is something that will have been considered.
Haverkamp mentioned Tuesday’s city council meeting, where a heated public forum took place. Residents of Tyrol Drive have raised various concerns about sober homes in their neighborhood, such as safety and drug use. During that meeting on Tuesday, Haverkamp spoke up and tried to calm concerns, but said she felt neighbors were unfairly judging and discriminating against residents of sober homes.
She told the Planning Commission on Wednesday that it would be beneficial if a detailed information pack was distributed to people living near the proposed development so that conversations could take place in advance.
“I think this project and the Tyrol Hills neighborhood is going to have to kind of find that balance so that there’s harmony and peace in our community and good neighbors and good will and good friendship,” Haverkamp said.
Kinney said he received two phone calls about the project and had positive conversations with both people, and community development manager David Chanski said he received no public communications.
The commissioners ultimately agreed that they were generally in favor of the proposal, but had four main concerns – the harmony of the neighborhood, the possibility of higher density housing, what exactly the site would look like and the timing of each of the phases .
They approved a motion to support the concept, but asked Kinney to come back to the commission with ideas on how to address those concerns. This recommendation, which the commission unanimously approved, will now be submitted to City Council at its next meeting on February 7. Board members can give feedback, raise any other concerns, and decide how they want to move forward.