Council voices support for new low- to moderate-income apartments on Blazing Star Landing

Published 6:18 am Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday voted to support a proposal for 60 new low- to moderate-income apartments on a portion of the Blazing Star Landing.

The action comes as the city is accepting proposals for the Blazing Star Landing, the site of the former Farmland Foods, which burned down in 2001.

City Manager Ian Rigg said though the city cannot officially accept a purchase agreement for the property because the land has not yet officially been platted and legal descriptions have not officially been approved, Tapestry Companies is seeking to apply for Minnesota Housing Finance Authority low-income housing tax credits for the project, of which the application is due in July.          

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Rigg said with the action, the city will essentially hold the property as the company works through the application process for the housing credits. A purchase agreement will be signed at a later date.

He said the city’s housing study shows there is a significant gap in heavily subsidized units in the community, calling for at least 47 units. The units would be income-based for people at 50% or less of the median income.

“This is one of those difficult to achieve that we haven’t had in a while,” he said.

The company, which specializes in similar housing, is proposing to build the complex, which would be a combination of one- to four-bedroom units on what has been identified as Block 2 in the city’s preliminary plat for the property, which is in the middle of the land. Retail and commercial development is still preferred for the northernmost part of the property.

This map provided by the city of Albert Lea shows the Blazing Star Landing lots for sale.

The company is offering $525,000 for the property and proposing the city pay the cost to remediate the land from contaminants and to install infrastructure needed for the project.

The project would not be in competition with the newly built market-rate apartments built on the south end of the Blazing Star Landing, which market to residents with different incomes, Rigg said.

If awarded the state housing credits, Tapestry Companies would receive that funding in 2024, with construction to take place in 2025. The soil remediation would take place in 2024. The company will find out if it receives the funding in December 2023.

The council’s action authorizes the city manager to sign a purchase agreement with the company once final platting and legal descriptions are complete, and noted Rigg could offer incentives to assist in improving the project’s low-income housing tax credit application score.

Once the agreement is signed, the company will pay $8,000 to hold the property for the development.

Mayor Rich Murray asked Rigg what he knew about the company, and Rigg said the company highlighted six other projects it has been a part of, including in Mankato, Rochester, North St. Paul and Minneapolis, in its proposal.

“They have a very long list and they routinely work with the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority,” Rigg said.

He said the company considered Albert Lea after looking at the large list of projects approved for funding by the state and recognizing it had been a long time since the last similar project had been approved in Albert Lea.

“That area of land has sat vacant for so long, and I’d like to thank the city manager, city planner, other city staff for really stepping up and really getting something done,” said 3rd Ward Councilor Jason Howland. “That very large piece, parcel of land, is going to look a lot different in a few years — and it’s about time.”

He recognized there are a lot of moving parts tied to the property because of the contamination cleanup but noted the success with doing so with the Unique Apartments along Front Street.

First Ward Councilor Rachel Christensen said she, too, was impressed with the work that has been done to make the project viable and to open the site up for opportunities.

“I think it’s wonderful to see progress happening in that area of town,” 4th Ward Councilor Sherri Rasmussen said.

Rigg said the city has received one other proposal thus far for a different part of the Blazing Star Landing and will present that at the June 12 meeting