Babinski Properties removed an application to build a multi-family housing unit from the Crosslake Planning and Zoning Commission meeting agenda for a second time Thursday, April 25, following public criticism and comment about the project.
John Babinski, head of Babinski Properties, sent an email to the Planning and Zoning Commission requesting that the application process be extended until the end of June to allow additional changes to the plans for a 60-unit, three-story apartment building on County Highway 3 behind Andy's Bar and Grill.
The email included a list of expected changes, most of which related to tree preservation on the property. Babinski said they would be moving garages, rearranging the parking lot and adjusting entry to the property to save trees that would have been removed in the old plan.
"This time will also allow us to line up on-site meetings for all citizens of the community to address concerns and questions," he wrote.
Babinski Properties first removed its application from the Friday, March 22, planning and zoning agenda after hearing that there was unrest in the community only days before.
"We pulled it when we found out we didn't have the green light we thought we had," said Bob Erickson, general manager of Babinski Properties. "We wanted to address concerned people whose voices hadn't been heard."
The decision to postpone the building application a second time came after Babinski Properties hosted an open house information session Tuesday, April 23, at the Crosslake Community Center. Dozens of Crosslake residents showed up to learn more about the plans for the housing unit from Babinski representatives.
Attendees voiced strong mixed opinions about the prospect of the new housing unit, from total support to vehement distaste for the development.
Many residents, and generally the more vocal attendees at the open house, felt strongly that the entire building proposal was a bad idea.
Residents Sharon Mulder, John Porter and Shorty Eisenbraun talked to Erickson about their concerns.
"This is a very, very sore subject with me," said Eisenbraun. "I think the city is trying to drive people out of this area, I really do. If the city is going to let something like this go through, they're going to drive the people out of here. I have heard that some people are going to put their houses up for sale... and I don't blame them one bit."
Eisenbraun and Mulder both expressed frustration regarding the potential hike in traffic volume on County Highway 3 as well as the overall population density increase.
"Our small little town of Crosslake will not be a small little town anymore," said Mulder.
Porter said that he worried about an affordable housing unit "attracting undesirables" to the community.
Erickson explained that Babinski Properties personnel does thorough background checks and works hard to keep problematic tenants out of the business' properties.
Overhearing this, Crosslake Community School social worker Kris Fjelstul joined the conversation.
"I very much am excited about this project," she said. "We have families that are without homes here, and they are not 'undesirable,' there are just not homes for the income that they have. They are many of our staff, so I get offended when I hear that because I think, 'I'm not undesirable, I'm just not paid well.'"
Other residents, especially in the business community, look favorably on the addition of workforce housing that they believe is lacking in Crosslake.
"We need growth for places for people to live," said JAG Interiors owner Julie Gowen while looking at a poster of the proposed building layout at the open house. "There's just nothing out here. I think it is very well needed. It will fill the needs of not only Crosslake, but there are people that are going to be coming from Emily, from Crosby and even from Breezy Point that are going other places because they can't get here."
Resident Sadie Hoag agreed with Gowen that additional housing is necessary, but she is not a fan of the location.
"I just don't like it behind the bar area. I think it could be placed elsewhere," she said. "Andy's is so full all the time now the way it is, and there's such a traffic problem there sometimes, so I just think it would be better located somewhere else away from that road."
Babinski said residents taking issue with the location seemed to be a common thread as the company started hearing public opinion.
"We didn't see there was any issue for two and a half months," he said. "In March we went for a property walkthrough, and planning and zoning turned it down, said it was too big, so we pulled it."
Babinski said that while his team is still adjusting certain elements of the design, such as the parking lot and driveway placement, the overall plan to create this 60-unit housing structure on County Highway 3 has not changed.
"When it comes down to choosing a different spot, we already had all the money invested into this spot, so now if we do choose a new spot, we don't really have any way to recoup the money we lost," he said.
He said he knows the citizens of Crosslake have high expectations for how the complex would be built and maintained, so if his company is going to do this project, it wants to do it right.
"We're trying to do a good thing for the community, you know?" said Babinski. "We got asked to come here. The city didn't necessarily ask us to come here, but we got a lot of business owners, a lot of word of mouth, the housing study, a lot of things that led up to us thinking and knowing that Crosslake needs housing."
Erickson agreed that this project came into being because the team at Babinski Properties identified a need after listening to the community.
"I feel that it's going to be a positive outcome for the entire city of Crosslake, I truly do," he said. "And it will only be a matter of time until we can prove that to the people that don't want it."
Babinski Properties plans to ask the Crosslake Planning and Zoning Commission for a decision on the building application at the end of June after making more adjustments. The company will announce future public information sessions or on-site meetings as it sees fit.