City grants developer shot at downtown

Submitted map

This is the area that developer Jesse Hartung, of Modern Construction, will be looking at to see if a project is feasible and present it to the Elk River City Council for consideration.

Modern Construction given 4-month leash that offers exclusivity but no guarantees city will approve anything

by Maggie Stanwood and Jim Boyle

Adams Publishing Group of East Central Minnesota

A developer will be exploring the idea of bringing high-density, market rate housing as part of a mixed use development concept to downtown Elk River after the Elk River City Council approved a preliminary development agreement at the council meeting on Oct. 7.

The preliminary development agreement does not obligate the city to move forward with whatever proposed plan the developer, Modern Construction, would bring back but does specify that the city would not work with another developer interested in the same area for the length of the agreement, which would be until February 2020.

When contacted by the Star News, Jesse Hartung, the owner and founder of Modern Construction, offered a big thank you the council and mayor for giving his firm the opportunity to explore ideas for downtown.

“I care deeply for this community and moved here when I got out of the military in 2001,” he said. “I’ve lived downtown for many years and had my construction office downtown for over five years.

“I’m excited and confident that I can help make downtown safer for pedestrians, reduce traffic, add some truly state-of-the-art amenities, and probably most importantly solve the parking problems once and for all.”

The agreement allows Modern Construction to explore feasibility and finance options for the development. It also requires the developer to communicate with nearby property owners and businesses to determine support, as well as look at how the development would affect parking and traffic.

The area owned by the city that is being sought by the developer is currently used for parking and a farmers market.

Elk River Mayor John Dietz voted against approving the agreement out of a concern for losing parking spaces should the development go through.

“There’s just too many red flags for me,” Dietz said. “I’m not going to give away our parking lot. I’m not even going to give the impression that I’m giving away the parking lot.”

Council Member Matt Westgaard said that the council members who voted yes are not necessarily OK with giving away parking spaces, but were agreeing that the city would not negotiate with another developer while the agreement was in effect.

“We are already tight on parking — there’s no way we can give up one parking stall,” Westgaard said. “If anything, we would like to see a plan that expands parking.”

Hartung told the Star News in the coming months he will be analyzing the site and its challenges from every angle with some knowledgeable people.

“I look forward to sharing more information and hearing from Elk River residents and fellow business owners on how to improve our community,” he stated.

He also said he would welcome all feedback from the community at:

Hartung said at a previous meeting that he believes the demand for high-density housing opportunities is swiftly approaching Elk River, as it is in other Twin Cities exurbs.

In other action at the Oct. 7 meeting, the council:

— Approved a license renewal with minor changes for the Elk River Landfill. Though landfill employees said at the meeting that there has been an influx of trash, the landfill is still expected to last until 2030.

— Terminated the employment of Fire Marshal Cliff Anderson. According to council documents, Anderson has been on an extended leave of absence and has used both his paid leave time and Family and Medical Leave Act time. The termination is being done in order for the city to fill the position. Anderson has not been terminated from the fire department and remains on a leave of absence.

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