Chladek looks for 'in-fill' housing opportunities on under-utilized land.

    As new residential housing developments continue to make the headlines in Crookston – with homes being built along Barrette Street, on the former Lincoln School property and on the south end near the former Carman School – city officials aren't abandoning the need for "in-fill" housing throughout the community.

    So what's in-fill housing? Well, it involves existing lots scattered about the community that the city owns or controls for one reason or another, lots that could potentially be home to new houses. Some of the in-fill housing discussions over the past few years have involved the Crookston Area Habitat for Humanity, which is always looking for attractive lot options to construct homes with their partner families.

    There was talk a couple years ago about building one and maybe a few Habitat homes on the former Franklin School property in the Woods Addition. But a groundswell of opposition from nearby residents, some of whom even offered to buy the greenspace and maintain it in order so kids and others could keep utilizing the space as a park of sorts, nixed the idea.

    City Administrator Tony Chladek this week, at the Crookston City Council's Ways & Means Committee, pitched the former Franklin School site once again as a potentially good site for some in-fill housing. Not necessary for Habitat homes, but homes in general that, he said, could include building covenants that require homes to fit the neighborhood profile. He also mentioned the possibility of building a few in-fill homes on and next to the Hoven Lane park site.

    Specifically, Chladek asked the committee to endorse spending around $1,300 for abstract of title costs for the two locations in order to make sure the "titles are clean." He said both areas were attractive for potential single-family home construction because they are currently a maintenance expense for the city, and they already have utilities in the ground. The Franklin School land, he said, is only a block away from the much larger city park, Wildwood, Chladek said, adding that the Hoven Lane Park appears to be under-utilized and is also located close to another park option.

    Council members kind of liked what they heard about the Hoven Lane option, but told Chladek to back away from the Franklin School site idea. Ward Six Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said at least three homes could probably be built adjacent to Hoven Lane Park without sacrificing the park. "It gets used," Vedbraaten said, adding that it attracts people from Dairy Queen.

    Ward Four Council Member Hector Santellanes said that he would strongly oppose any efforts to build homes where Franklin School once stood. If the city is concerned about mowing and other costs there, he said maybe nearby residents should be approached again about potentially buying the land so it remains a greenspace. "They don't want any houses there," Santellanes said. "There are plenty of other areas in town to develop housing."

    At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye questioned if homes could even be built on the onetime demolition site, in which building debris was dumped in the school's basement space and buried. "We might put some money into this and find out we can't build there anyway," Melbye said. "Us that have lived down there long enough, we know what they pushed in that hole."

    Melbye mentioned the homes being built by the Northwest Minnesota Housing Cooperative on the land near the former Lincoln School. There, he reminded his colleagues, the council backed away a couple years ago from plans to have the cooperative build more homes on Alexander Park in exchange for a new park being included in the housing development. "It seemed pretty silly, but we let them keep that old park," Melbye said, acknowledging that he realizes the Franklin School land isn't a city park.

    He suggested putting any talk of homes on the former school land on the back-burner, for multiple reasons. The nearby residents will rally in opposition again, he said, adding that selling the land to private parties might sound easy enough, but "saying you're going to keep it maintained is one thing, but doing it for years and years, that's another thing."

    Mayor Dave Genereux echoed concerns about even being allowed to build on the actual school demolition site. A couple homes could potentially be built next to the school site, he said. "And you'd still have the greenspace," he said.

    Chladek said he's simply trying to add to the inventory of taxable property in the city, and maximize the use of some parcels that are under-utilized. Council members understood that, but "there are lots of single lots scattered around town," Melbye said.

    "And let's not forget, we have other people in town trying to sell lots," CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said.