Across the street from Van and Kathy Wire’s 1415 Roland Lane home sits an empty field that could look a lot different within the next few years.
The field is the location of the 21.7 acres of land Avera Queen of Peace recently donated to the Mitchell Area Development Corporation in hopes of creating a development of up to 94 affordable homes.
While it’s been nearly a month since the MADC unveiled its plans to bring the affordable housing project to the corner of East Eighth Avenue and Foster Street, the Wires are two of many nearby residents trying to grasp the project and its design layout, which the couple said hasn’t been easy.
Though the Wires support the idea of bringing affordable housing to the city of Mitchell, the two have some serious concerns that have come into focus since the MADC unveiled the project proposal on Jan. 9.
“We’ve been accused from day one that we are anti-growth, and my wife and I are not against growth and affordable housing, but the way the development is laid out does not blend in with our neighborhood across the street,” Van Wire said.
The Wires’ concerns surrounding the lot sizes for the homes that will be located across the street from their house in the Firesteel Heights neighborhood are shared among many of the nearby residents.
Planning Commission tables development
At its Jan. 27 meeting, the seven-person city Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to table the development project and the zoning ordinances it requires to move forward after receiving 54 letters, most of which were from nearby residents who disapproved of the proposed design plan or the project outright. One of those letters was from a nearby resident who approved of the project.
Several hours prior to the Jan. 27 Planning Commission meeting, the nearby residents privately met with Mark Vaux, CEO of the MADC. The initial design of the project included a string of 60- by 135-foot lots along East Eighth Avenue where 20 of the 94 homes would be built. Despite Vaux’s offer to increase lot widths to 80 feet per nearby residents’ requests, Commission Chairman Jay Larson said the design plans of the development should be reevaluated with the amount of concerns and requests made.
And as of now, those concerns and requests are being considered, as Vaux said the design plan is being reconfigured to fit those requests by the Feb. 24 Planning Commission meeting.
“We value the input from the residents to make some tweaks that we hope will help this great opportunity move forward,” Vaux said.
City Council Vice President Dan Allen represents the ward of Firesteel Heights residents, and he emphasized the importance of listening to the neighbors of the proposed housing development. Allen said he supports changing the lot sizes along East Eighth Avenue to have a minimum 80-foot width.
“The requests and concerns from the people who live in and around this area matter, and making efforts to include their input on the design is how this development can be a success,” Allen said.
Broadly speaking, Van Wire said the 60-foot wide lots were worrisome for him and Kathy due to the potential effect they could have on the property value of their own home, considering their residence and many nearby homes sit on 95-foot or wider lots.
“We want to have the equity of our home, because we may possibly relocate down the road. But with how much smaller the lots are and the way the homes would be laid out, it’s very likely it would decrease the value of nearby homes,” Van Wire said. “The lot with the least square footage in our Firesteel Heights neighborhood is 13,005 square feet, and there are many lots that are over 22,000 square feet. And they want to put a string of homes on a 7,800-square-foot lot?”
Kathy also took issue with the lack of information and input from the development project leaders, considering she and the nearby residents learned of the housing development plan during its Jan. 9 unveiling.
“We learned that the Development Corporation had been planning it for months before it was announced, and where was the input from neighbors?” Kathy Wire asked. “Where was the infrastructure input?”
Pam Bathke, who lives off of East Eighth Avenue in the Firesteel Heights neighborhood, has led efforts to inform her fellow neighbors of the project details. She’s coordinated several neighborhood meetings with the help of her husband, Mike Bathke.
While the Bathkes share concerns similar to those of the Wires and other residents, Pam Bathke pointed to the mixed-use area that is a part of the existing design as a major concern. According to the updated design plans, a mixed-use section would be constructed on the northwest corner of the development area at the intersection of Foster Street and East Eighth Avenue. The mixed-use area would be used to construct a building that could dually house retail businesses and a dwelling, which would be surrounded by pocket neighborhood homes.
“We are asking for all residential family housing along East Eighth Avenue, because we do not feel that retail businesses are appropriate for our neighborhood and would cause extra traffic,” Bathke said. “There are a lot of things that we feel could be done better with the development to be a neighborhood-friendly development. Title X in the city’s ordinance says, ‘A planned unit development must be designed in its space allocation, orientation, texture, materials, landscaping and other features as to compliment the design and values of the surrounding neighborhood.’ And we would ask for that to be followed.”
Jeff McCormick, project engineer of SPN and Associates, is designing the two-phase infrastructure portion of the project, which would include streets, sewers, water and utilities.
Phase I includes a little over half of the 21.7 acres of land, which makes up the east half of the development area, along with the northwest corner.
Avera will retain its parking lot across the street from its current hospital. Avera Queen of Peace Regional President and CEO Tom Clark said last month the hospital will give up ownership when hospital operations move to the Avera Grasslands campus. The campus, which opened in 2016 along Interstate 90, is set to be the eventual home of Avera’s hospital in Mitchell, but there is still no timeline on a potential move, according to Jay Gravholt, Avera director of media relations.
Hospital officials and the MADC have said the planned second phase of development will remain on hold until the hospital is done with the parking lot.
McCormick detailed the existing infrastructure during the Jan. 27 Planning Commission meeting and noted the past flooding issues that affected Avera Queen of Peace’s emergency room. However, McCormick said the layout of the existing infrastructure and any new improvements needed for the project would allow for proper drainage in the development area.
“The sanitary and sewer will likely be handled by a lift station for some of the development, and we have the capacity to connect the sewer for proper drainage,” McCormick said.
With an existing detention pond located toward the middle of the proposed development area paired with a history of drainage issues, Van Wire worries the entire area and nearby neighborhoods will be faced with drainage woes and potential flooding during rain events.
“We’ve had drainage issues in our neighborhood the way it is. The hospital emergency room flooded around 1984, and that’s why the detention pond was constructed,” Van Wire said. “Just as Jay Larson said, ‘If you put that many roofs, streets and driveways in, you don’t have a field there absorbing water.’ With already saturated ground, where is it going to go?”
The reconfigured design of the development will be brought back to the Planning Commission on Feb. 24, where project leaders will provide further details on design layout changes made to better fit the nearby residents’ requests. Should the development be approved, the City Council will have the final say in green lighting the project at its March meeting.