Ways & Means Committee approves bullet-point list of details, requirements.

    In the weeks leading up to this week's Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting, when council members and city officials discussed the development agreement with Bob Herkenhoff involving some residential housing lots in the northeast corner's Nature's View Estates, the deal-in-progress was always referred to as being part of the fledgling Crookston Homestead Act.

    The agreement involving 17 home lots along the east side of Barrette Street is now known as the Crookston Workforce Housing Homestead Act, however. Why? Because council members – even though the city will give away the lots gifted to them by Herkenhoff, in return for tax abatements in other lots he owns – want people potentially interested in building a home on one of the lots to be able to afford it.

    Monday, the committee endorsed all kinds of details relating to how the lots will be platted, how they'll be sold, and what the city will require of the clients it works with.

    The goal for the homes being built on the lots, which are all 150 feet deep and range in width from 75 to 100 feet, is to have them cost $130,000 to no more than $200,000. At one point, the lots were thought to be 200 feet deep, but Public Works Director Pat Kelly, in laying out the plat, figured that 200 feet was "enormously deep." So he took a 50-foot strip across the back of all the parcels, referred to as an "out-lot," and that is where all the utility hook-ups will be located. If the development eventually has a second phase in the form of a second row of houses that will butt up against wetlands in the area, Kelly said the out-lot will make it much easier to fit a street in.

    Things that council members on the committee decided include:
    • At least at the beginning, the city will allow one client to buy one lot. If the lots move slower than expected, the city will consider allowing developers and/or contractors to purchase more than one lot, as long as they meet required construction timelines.
    • Pre-approval for home construction financing will be required.
    • The minimum square footage for a house will be 900, not including the basement and required attached garage. The council debated a 1,000 square foot minimum at length, but looking at various drawings of nice homes that were just under 1,000 square feet, they lowered the requirement. For a multi-story home, the minimum square footage requirement is 1,600, again not including the basement and attached garage.
    • A $500 non-refundable deposit will be required of clients pursuing a parcel. If they conclude the process, the fee can go toward their building permit fee.
    • After the financing and purchase agreement are in place, clients will have three months to get their building permit, a year to start construction, and 18 months to finish their home.
    It'll cost around $100,000 to extend the utilities to the parcels. City Administrator Tony Chladek, eventually concluding that he had misunderstood previous council discussions, had planned to get half of the $100,000 from the city's sewer and water enterprise funds, which have a total balance of around $1.5 million, and get the rest from a "special projects" fund totaling $150,000 that the council has set aside for the Wayne Hotel corner project, the Downtown Square, and some potential housing rehabilitation in the community.

    But council members reiterated Monday evening that they want the $150,000 fund untouched by the Crookston Workforce Housing Homestead Act, and that they want the enterprise funds eventually reimbursed by property tax revenue that comes in once the homes are built and get on the tax rolls.

    The discussion prompted Kelly to chime in with an offer to have the entire cost of installing the utilities come out of the sewer and water funds. "It's no big deal, the funds can handle $100,000," he said. "I didn't expect you'd want to pay it back, either, so that's even a bigger bonus."

    The debate also prompted Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson to request more detailed information on the city's finances and fund balances when council members are tasked with deciding how to pay for various projects.

    "We're talking about where to take money out, where to pay money back, and it would be nice to see the balances of each fund we're talking about," she said. "It's really hard to make these decisions without having that information in front of us."