Hutchinson is moving forward with a process that could bring an apartment building downtown, but with a change.
The city previously discussed entering a purchase agreement with the unnamed developer for city-owned property along the Crow River behind Subway and Taco John's. It was previously the site of a Cenex fertilizer plant. It was purchased by the city for $351,000 in 2006 for redevelopment.
However, at a City Council meeting last month, concerns were raised regarding the building plan, building development so close to a recreation area, and the expected height of the building. Since then, Hutchinson Economic Development Director Miles Seppelt has spoken with the developer, who agreed to shift from a purchase agreement to a "right of first refusal" agreement. The change would give the developer exclusive right to enter a purchase agreement for $351,329 while it carries out its due diligence and site research, and spares the city from committing to a purchase agreement until a future time.
Hutchinson resident Jim Fahey addressed City Council Nov. 10, and encouraged the city to remember the land was purchased to be redeveloped.
"We certainly could use the help in increasing our tax base," he said. "I would encourage you to do everything you can to keep this developer in the mix."
Council Member Steve Cook reiterated concerns about the site. He said that while the land was for redevelopment, it had not been determined what kind of redevelopment would take place.
"I get the economic development part of it," he said, "but we also need to think about the community development part."
Parks and trails along the river in Hutchinson are a unique feature, and had been identified as a central part of the community identity in a recent marketing report, Cook said. A four-story apartment building — one floor for parking, three for units — as has been discussed by the developer would change the area's character, he argued.
"You look west from the dam at that. The scale of that is so out of place with the rest of the development around it," he said. "It will be the dominant thing you see down there."
Cook noted there were other locations for apartment development available in Hutchinson.
Council Member Chad Czmowski said the agreement is an opportunity for the council to work with the developer to craft a project more in line with the city's goals. He noted the agreement doesn't commit the city to agree to anything.
"This is the first step in a 30-step process," he said. "I don't know if I'm in favor of a four-story building down there. It would be kind of a monster in that part of town. But maybe they would be open to a mixed-use property."
Seppelt said the city can use the new agreement to tell the developer what it wants.
"We're just looking into the feasibility of what can be done," he said.
"Miles has gone into this real cautiously," Mayor Gary Forcier said.
Council Member Dave Sebesta said the city can't make any final decisions until the developer shows drawings of what it has in mind. Cook doubted a smaller building is likely, considering the number of units the developer has signaled it needs to be profitable.
City Council agreed 4-1 to move forward with the right of first refusal agreement, with Cook opposed.