HERMANTOWN – On paper, Tuesday night’s debate was about a senior housing complex.
For the 100-plus people who packed the Hermantown City Council chambers, it was about the heart and soul of the community.
“Ask, is this right for Hermantown?” said fourth-generation resident Matt Johnson. “Approving this development as it currently is drawn will set a dangerous precedent.”
The council voted down a development plan for a four-story, 103-unit senior living complex, 16 townhouse units plus 18 single-family homes all on a 10-acre lot just across the road from City Hall.
Mayor Wayne Boucher, in casting the deciding vote against the $20 million development, said he wasn’t closing the door on it forever. But because of the project’s height and density, he said no for now.
“Growth is painful. The prospect of change sometimes brings out fear in people,” he said. “There is room for compromise here. I don’t think anyone is against senior housing or mixed housing.”
The proposal called for 18 memory care units and 25 assisted-living units, with all but the single-family homes reserved for residents 55 and older. About 250 residents were anticipated in total.
Developer James Talago of James Patrick Homes said he intends to revisit the proposal.
“It’s a shame they tabled this with such a shortage in the market,” he said.
The number of St. Louis County residents 55 and older grew nearly 10% in the past five years, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center. Between now and 2030, their ranks could grow an additional 5% with an especially marked increase in those 85 and older.
The total population of the county is projected to shrink slightly in that time.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development said as the number of elderly Americans grows, so will the number living with disability or illness.
“The current U.S. housing stock is ill-equipped to meet the needs of this population,” says a federal report.
Some residents and a representative from a competing senior living facility argued there are ample options available and that in-home health care will be part of the answer.
Others argued there is not a trained workforce available to safely support assisted living.
Still others said the building would be an eyesore, that it would increase traffic, that it would strain emergency services, that it doesn’t fit the rural character of that part of town, and that it would be a better fit closer to the city’s commercial corridor along Hwy. 53.
The city would not have provided any direct incentives or financial assistance, and the development was expected to bring in $110,000 in taxes for the city and $100,000 for the school district every year.
Council members all said they supported the goals of the project but, as the 3-2 vote proved, not its design.
“I am all for this development. I am all for mixed development on this site, but I think this is too much on the site,” said Council Member Kristi Schmidt, who voted against the development alongside Council Member Gloria Nelson and Boucher.