Litchfield’s need for housing received at least a partial remedy last week when the City Council approved a change in zoning and a site plan that clear the way for a multi-family housing development in the northeast part of town.

The action came during a meeting July 20, with the City Council unanimously approving requests from developer Litchfield Opportunity Zone Inc. The site plan calls for two 30-unit apartment complexes, along with four four-unit patio townhomes, four four-unit villas and one two-unit villa.

The 94-unit development will be located between North Cottonwood Avenue and County State Aid Highway 34.

A housing shortage has been identified for at least a few years as one of the main hurdles to growth and expansion of local businesses. With Doosan Bobcat in the midst of an expansion of its Litchfield plant, announced last last year, that is expected to add up to 200 new jobs, the shortage has become more pronounced.

That’s why Litchfield Opportunity Zone’s proposal has garnered significant attention.

The housing development required a change of zoning, as the 24.5 acre parcel was zoned R-1, for single-family residential. The type of apartment and townhome development proposed by the developer demands an R-3, or multi-family residential, designation.

A housing student in August 2016, prior to Doosan Bobcat’s expansion announcement, found that Litchfield needed more multi-unit housing, according to a memo from City Planner Hannah Rybak.

In addition, the site plan for the development includes a berm with a row of evergreen trees, which serves as a buffer between it and single-family homes on Cottonwood Avenue immediately to the west. The plan also shows four-unit villas closest to the homes on Cottonwood, “which provide a more natural transition between single-family to apartments,” Rybak’s memo stated, with the two apartment buildings on the south side of the lot, furthest from existing single-family homes.

A private street to serve the development will come in from CSAH 34 and loop around the parcel.

Litchfield Planning Commission, which reviewed the zoning request and site plan before unanimously approving, did raise some questions about whether there was enough parking planned. Additional parking spaces were added for the apartment parking lot, bringing the total up from the originally planned 76 spaces to 90 — more than the 60 required by city ordinance, but less than the 96 to 105 spaces city staff recommended.

Council member Darlene Kotelnicki asked whether city ordinance needed to be adjusted to reflect the staff recommendations for parking, “so we treat all future requests the same. If we have too few places in our ordinance, we should look at that right?”

Council member Eric Mathwig, who also serves on the Planning Commission, agreed that could be something to review in the future, but ultimately, “the onus is on the developer to provide” enough parking for renters, or “there will be a problem.”

In other action:

  • The City Council, on Mathwig’s resolution, agreed unanimously to table four conditional use permit applications from Rick Rossow that would allow the developer to move four existing homes onto to four open lots in the city.

While the Planning Commission agreed that the four properties — 315 E. 10th St., 525 N. Miller Ave., 616 N. Ramsey Ave. and 1012 N. Armstrong Ave. — are suitable size for the four homes, members questioned whether the four moves could be completed on an acceptable schedule.

Some commissioners recalled issues with previous Rossow projects in the city, according to a memo, and although the commission eventually recommended approval of the conditional use permits, members requested the CUP agreement come back to them for review.

Several City Council members echoed the concerns of Planning Commission members.

Because of past history, Council member Ron Dingmann said, he feared “we’re going to run into the same problem we had before with this applicant.”

Mayor Keith Johnson said he thought it important that Rossow’s attorney and City Attorney Mark Wood work on a CUP agreement that set out clear expectations, because “I just have some concerns because of past practice with the applicant (when) things have not gone well for us.”

  • The City Council approved a variance request from Jim Ellingson and Megan Kalina for property at 30 S. Fuller Ave., to allow construction of an open-sided porch to the front of their home. The variance request was for a 1.5-foot reduction to the minimum front yard setback of 20 feet.
  • A tax parcel split waiver request and site plan from First District Association received City Council approval. The plans allow for a land swap between FDA and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, located just to the south of the dairy cooperative’s campus.

First District land to the southeast of the plant will be sold to the church, which will convert it into a parking lot.

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