After four hours of discussion and public comments, the Red Wing Advisory Planning Commission approved advancement of Global Mercantile & Associates's conditional-use permit request to convert the old St. John's Hospital into apartment units. The vote was 5-2.

The City Council will take up the recommendation at 6 p.m. Monday, July 22.

READ MORE: Prescription tweaked for St. John's Hospital site

There are still numerous steps that need to be completed and conditions to be met, including the submission and approval of a final plan, before any work on the building can begin. Despite this, many community residents are unhappy that the project was not halted in this early step.

What is proposed

Global Mercantile has proposed to redevelop the building that was once the St. John's Hospital into 102 apartment units. According to the packet prepared by city staff for the Planning Commission, the current plan is to build 15 studio, 62 one-bedroom and 25 two-bedroom apartments.

The preliminary plan, as presented to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, includes 176 off-street parking stalls, outside patios and decks, a playground and a greenspace.

Community reactions

The council chambers were not large enough to hold everyone who attended the Planning Commission meeting. Folding chairs were brought into the room and set up in the lobby for those who arrived late or became tired of standing.

PREVIOUSLY:  Professional and Community Center to be sold for housing development

The overall reaction from community members in attendance was that they did not want to see this plan moved forward. Common concerns presented by those at the meeting and letters submitted to the commission prior to the meeting included:

• Surrounding homes' property values will plummet

• Traffic will increase dramatically with more people living in the neighborhood.

• Parking will be a problem

• How snow will be removed (specifically, where people will park when the parking lot is being cleared and there is a snow emergency)

• Complex will have too many apartments classified as "affordable"

• The proposed rental prices are too high

• This project might negatively affect future housing and development projects

• Density of the neighborhood

While most of those who live in the neighborhood and spoke were opposed to the project, there were Red Wing residents who spoke in favor of the project. Sharon McCord, a Red Wing-based recruiter, told that commission:

"We try to bring people here to live. However, there is no where to put them here to live." She went on to say, "We need to get more people here because we have a lot of jobs in our town to offer."

City staff information

City staff and the applicant worked to address some of the concerns raised by residents. Dan Rogness, Red Wing's community development director, used trip generation data from the Institute of Traffic Engineers to estimate the traffic increase that this project would create. According to ITE data, 102 new housing units will result in an estimated 747 more trips per day, which roughly equals a car driving by once every minute and a half.

VIEWPOINTS: Letter: Affordable housing is not subsidized housing | Letter: There's little that's 'affordable' in old hospital proposal

Currently, the city is not planning to study possible impacts on property value. However, Rogness told the Republican Eagle that the City Council could make such a study a condition in allowing the conditional-use permit to move forward.

The rental price of an apartment, price to convert the building and possible TIF funding are not part of the Planning Commission's conversation; these items will be discussed by the City Council and possibly the Housing & Redevelopment Authority. However, the CUP presentation did state that this project will not include subsidized housing.

Next steps

The Planning Commission voted to support the CUP requested by Global Mercantile with the conditions that the developer look at:

• Covered parking on the south side of the building and/or underground parking

• Off-street parking that includes 1.75 spaces per apartment unit

• Landscaping and buffering

• Putting fewer units into the building than the proposed 102 units

• The proposed playground and greenspace

• Creating a snow removal plan

Another hearing will be held before the City Council approves the final plan.

Now that the Planning Commission has voted to support the CUP, it will be taken up by the City Council on Monday, July 22. If the council also approves of the CUP, a final plan will need to be submitted to the city within 90 days. That plan will then go through a public hearing, the Planning Commission and City Council.