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Planning Commission tables Avera, MADC housing project

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Pam Bathke speaks to the Mitchell Planning Commission during Monday's meeting regarding the affordable housing development project spearheaded by the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and built on land donated by Avera Queen of Peace. (Sam Fosness / Republic)
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After residents in the area of the planned Mitchell Area Development Corporation's housing development expressed their concerns Monday, the city's Planning Commission voted to table the decision.

The layout of the housing project that was discussed Monday was spearheaded by the MADC after Avera Queen of Peace announced it would donate 21.7 acres of land to create a development with as many as 94 homes in the price range of $250,000. The proposed development project is planned for east of the Avera Queen of Peace campus located at 525 Foster St., next to the hospital's employee parking lot along the east side of Foster Street.

Commission member Mark Vaux recused himself from the vote, citing a conflict of interest. Vaux serves as the CEO of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation.

“I’m not so sure we’re ready to vote on this. I think a lot of folks understand we need affordable housing, but if there are some additions or corrections with the design that were addressed from the comments we received then they might be more happy with this,” said Commission Chairman Jay Larson prior to the Commission’s unanimous approval to table the ordinance proposal.

Concerns from the nearby residents centered around the lot sizes within the proposed development area, increased traffic that could be a direct cause of the project and the aesthetics not matching the existing neighborhoods around the area.

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According to City Planner Neil Putnam, there were a total of 54 letters, most of which were submitted by nearby residents, that disapproved of the project. However, there was one letter of approval from a nearby resident. Putnam said there has yet to be a definitive timeline established for the Planning Commission to take action on the project plans.

Pam Bathke, who lives on East Eighth Avenue, voiced her concerns in opposition to the initial design plan of the development project.

“I have nothing against affordable housing, but I am against the way this proposed development does not blend well with the existing neighborhood on Eighth Avenue and Firesteel Heights,” Bathke said.

According to the initial design plans, most of the lots that would be designated for traditional homes would be 60 feet wide with square footage of 7,800 square feet, which Bathke opposed considering the nearby existing lots are larger. However, Vaux said there were discussions and plans to change the lot sizes along East Eighth Avenue to be roughly 80 feet wide.

“The proposed lot sizes are in stark contrast to the existing homes and lots,” Bathke said. “That doesn't compare to the 95-plus feet lot width and 12,000-plus square footage that are present today.”

Bathke also requested the designs of the housing project be reconfigured to be more similar to the existing area near the proposed project.

According to the 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 house retail businesses, which would be surrounded by pocket neighborhood homes.

“We don't feel that retail business are appropriate for our neighborhood and would cause extra traffic,” Bathke said. “We are also asking them to reconsider the street access, because the way this is drawn means that all the traffic will be funneling down through Eighth Avenue and Bridle Drive, which would cause a lot of congestion.”

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Affordable home financing process

Clinton Powell, executive director for Sheltering Community Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization that helps bring housing developments to communities in need, provided information on the financing process of the affordable homes.

“We’re able to adjust that monthly mortgage payment through a combination of a silent second mortgage payment that may be fully forgivable to the homeowner if they’re willing to stay in the neighborhood for five to 10 years,” Powell said. “100% of the single-family homes within the development will be built upon spec.”

When a house is built on spec, it means the home is built on speculation, meaning the construction company builds a home with features the builder believes will be appealing to interested home buyers. Powell said the development would be entirely built by local construction companies and contractors, noting Mitchell builders will have the opportunity to build the homes.

“We’re working with the builders on initial Request For Proposals, pending the approval by the city and Planning Commission. Any builder can put in a proposal under the current RFP,” Powell said.

Design layout

SPN and Associates, a local engineering firm, is the company that is designing the development project. SPN's Jeff McCormick broke down the design plans of the project and said the design would be divided into two phases. 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. McCormick said the Avera parking lot will remain and the local hospital will retain ownership until the development is ready for a second phase.

The infrastructure -- including streets, sewer, water and utilities -- that would be needed for the development is intended to be funded through a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, which the city of Mitchell would have to approve. Previously, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the TIF could fund up to $2 million of the infrastructure.

City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein referenced the recent Community Visioning process that consisted of results from community members who surveyed, which found that affordable housing was an area of need for the future of the city’s growth.

“All the participants in the community engagement survey showed 75.2% of the respondents said that housing options and the types of housing that are available are incredibly, incredibly important for the future of our community,” Ellwein said.

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Vaux supported Ellwein’s points she arose regarding the importance of bringing affordable housing to Mitchell.

“We need to look at what is the best interest of the entire community,” Vaux said. “We have a tremendous amount of momentum building, and every week, I get calls from people who want to see a K-Mart, Shopko or Buffalo Wild Wings. Our population has been trending downward for several years, and every one of those businesses base their decision to come here on population trends. If we don't do something to change those trends, none of those retail opportunities are coming.”

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City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein speaks to the Planning Commission during Monday's meeting regarding the affordable housing development project spearheaded by the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and built on land donated by Avera Queen of Peace. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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