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Cloquet Council approves middle school apartments

The most controversial agenda item at the Tuesday, July 17, Cloquet City Council meeting was the proposed 57-apartments planned for the former middle school building.

A public hearing on the project was held at the Cloquet Planning Commission meeting last week. The Commission recommended unanimously that the Council approve a change to the land-use portion of the comprehensive plan and rezoning from public/semi-public to moderate-to-high-density residential.

The commission already approved two variance requests last week to to allow a density of 23.17 units per acre in the R3 zone instead of 20 units per acre and permitting another variance to allow parking to back out onto a city street.

Roers Companies owner Brian Roers spoke to the Council on Tuesday about who they are.

"We're not from out east, we didn't have a trust fund," he said of himself and his brother, who own the company. "We're real people."

He explained that Roers likes to work in outstate Minnesota, in towns of a similar size to Marshall, where they grew up. Although they've done more than $500 million in development, including three other schools, they are into the Cloquet project for the long term, he said.

The motion to change the comprehensive plan needed a supermajority of five votes to pass, and did, with Ward 3 Councilor Roger Maki and Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge opposed.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, neighbor and Ward 3 Council candidate Richard Colsen expressed his displeasure that the council didn't demand at least a playground on the property, and predicted a rough road ahead for neighbors in terms of parking overflow.

Ward 1 Councilor Rock responded, noting that the council has to take other considerations in mind when voting, like the dire need for affordable housing in the city.

As proposed, the project will include a mix of 45 workforce and 12 market-rate apartments. Paul Keenan, vice president of development at Roers Companies, explained that "workforce" housing basically offers a discount of $200-$300 to tenants who are working, but who may be stressed financially because of lower wages or increased costs.

The Council will not be required to approve the final site plan for the middle school apartments as long as it falls within city code requirements, now that the variance requests passed, City Planner and Zoning Administrator Al Cottingham said.