Crookston City Council will digest draft of housing plan on Dec. 26.

    Housing. Whether it's owner-occupied, rental, single-family, a big complex, new construction, low-income or high-end, it has long been and continues to be a much-discussed topic among decision-makers in the Crookston community.

    Charting a successful housing path is listed as a "must do" in the latest list of strategic priorities identified by the Crookston City Council. An entire "Destiny Statement," formed as part of the Crookston InMotion community stewardship/strategic visioning initiative, is dedicated to housing: "Building Houses and Creating Homes!"

    So maybe it only makes sense that City Administrator Tony Chladek, based on all the ramped-up discussion of late, has formulated a "draft plan" of Crookston's housing options, from the here and now, to the short-term and into the long-term future. City council members will get their first detailed glimpse of the draft when Chladek presents it at the Dec. 26 city Ways & Means Committee meeting.

    "Where I'm at right now is that we've been bouncing all these ideas around, and prioritizing things we can maybe do now and things that are going to take some creativity in the future, and it's time to get some feedback," Chladek told the Times. "What does the council think the city can start working on specifically to accomplish some of the priorities the council has in mind?"

    The council has identified residential housing options downtown as a top priority. Ditto for a new housing incentive program that might spur the construction of new homes of varying values that meet the needs of a variety of homeowner and/or tenant demographics.

    Tangible things will start happening in 2013, when a $550,000 Small Cities Development Program grant kicks in downtown that will result in various commercial, residential and rental improvement projects at eligible properties. Once the grant funds are spent, Chladek said part of the housing plan includes going back to SCDP in pursuit of another grant, possibly on a larger scope, targeted again at downtown.

    As for elsewhere in town, Chladek said right now it's heartening to see the private sector playing an active role in the northeast corner, on the south end, and on the former Lincoln School property, with Bob Herkenhoff, Kevin Ross and the Northwest Minnesota Housing Cooperative, respectively, overseeing new residential development.

    That doesn't mean, however, that the city won't rule out at least platting residential lots to the northeast of Crookston Sports Center on land the city owns, Chladek said. With utilities now extended to the area – in order to spur the construction of Drafts Sports Bar & Grill – he said the sticker shock previously felt by city leaders a couple years ago when considering the costs of extending utilities to a potential housing development near the sports center has been eased some.

    "It's about platting it in a logical way, so the growth can occur where we have the utilities," Chladek explained. "That makes it cost-effective."

    When considering the quality and quantity of the available housing stock, Chladek said he takes a philosophical approach. As for the "higher end" homes that would cost well over $200,000 to build, he figures that as long as the land is available, the market will determine if those homes get built. For mid-priced and lower-income homes, a combination of incentives, public/private partnerships, a tax-increment financing (TIF) district and spec homes could be the necessary catalysts to help put people in homes that best fit their needs. As more and more properties become officially removed from the 100-year flood plain, the city will be poised to pounce on opportunities that might arise that spur a rebirth of neighborhoods long strapped by rules that hinder development in at-risk neighborhoods, too.

    "This is about responding to what the city can do to meet the housing demands of the community now and in the future," Chladek said. "Folks in the community need to know that this is among the highest priorities of the council, and that as early as 2013 we're going to be ready to take some action."