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White Pine Fails to Win Over Mendota Heights Planning Commission

Deadline pressure pushed a recommendation for the city council.

The senior development proposed for Mendota Plaza hit a snag Tuesday night and was recommended for denial by the Mendota Heights Planning Commission.

The plan will be before the Mendota Heights City Council Aug. 30 in a special meeting.

Staff has identified a in the proposal that they say depart from the intent of the Plaza’s planned unit development agreement passed in 2009.

Developers pulled out of a review in July upon receiving the staff's recommendation for denial.

The window for review of the development is set to expire Sept. 6, and the city needed an extension granted by the developer to allow for the process to continue.

That extension was granted by White Pine, but transmitted digitally, according to staff. The city’s custom is to require a physical signed copy, which was not available, according to Assistant City Administrator Jake Sedlacek.

If the commission did not forward a recommendation, the council could then take action on the plan without their input. If the council took no action before the deadline, the plan would be automatically approved.

 Ken Henk, president of Paster Enterprises, was present Tuesday to provide information on the plan. Paster Enterprises owns Mendota Plaza. Henk said the intent had been for White Pines to then come forward in September with further details or modifications.

Without the formal extension however, the next step will be before the council.

Business? Or Residential?

The PUD approved in 2009 designates a four-level, 100-unit senior facility with assisted living. What White Pine is proposing is two floors of memory care and two floors of assisted living.

Whether the development qualifies as a healthcare business or a residential establishment is a point of discussion. 

“Every apartment building you could look at as a business,” said Henk, “but this truly is a residential use. We feel this is a great addition for Mendota Plaza.”

Planning commission member Ansis Viksnins said that the original intent was to provide a mix of independent and assisted living units. That distinction may influence a number of other perceived disparities.

Points of departure identified by staff include the number of parking spaces, signage, orientation of the building on the site and its relationship to other buildings, pedestrian access, building materials (the percent of masonry is now reported to be one percent shy of the target), location of a municipal sewer pipe and the absence of balconies in the proposal that were specifically requested in the PUD.

Henk said in matters of design the plan is in line with the PUD or even an improvement.

The housing provides a progression of care appropriate for the location and the proximity to other senior independent living buildings in the city, Henk argued.

He said the three outstanding issues are signage proposed for the sides of the building, the absence of balconies in the proposal and the engineering of a municipal sewer pipe that is the subject of between Paster and the city.

Commissioners did not express the same level of confidence.

“Maybe the council will say this is great and change their mind, but I doubt it,” said Viksnins.

It was noted that the original PUD was kicked back to the planning commission for further work, a process that could play out again.

Judy Rhein August 24, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Whatever comes of White Pines, I hope a few of the units would qualify under affordable housing such as the CDA has available. I understand there is still a long waiting list for the affordable housing that is available in Mendota Heights. Also, balconies in a memory care unit, if that comes to pass, may be a safety issue. Memory care is becoming more and more necessary, it seems. It has to be located somewhere. What a lovely place to take residents out for a walk and become engaged in the activity and bustle of the mall atmosphere.

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