"Monstrosity," "enormity" and "unreasonable" were all words used to describe a proposed housing development in Hermantown Tuesday night.
After hearing from around two dozen people who voiced opposition to a 137-unit development, the Hermantown City Council voted 3-2 against the Arbours of Maple Grove, proposed to be located at 5097 Maple Grove Road. Councilors and community members who opposed it cited concerns with density and height, while those who supported it highlighted new housing and economic opportunities.
Bob Kanuit, counsel for the project developer Oppidan, said after the meeting that he was surprised by the vote. "(I) thought it was a good, strong project that filled a need for elder care in the community," he said.
At a pre-agenda meeting, no councilors signaled that they would be voting against the Arbours. Instead, some councilors shared their own personal stories with elderly care facilities.
The 10-acre lot would have housed a four-story building with 103 units, which included 18 memory care units, 25 assisted living units and 60 independent living units. There were also 18 single-family homes and four quadplexes called "senior villas," which were for those over 55 years old.
In total, it would have housed up to 253 people.
"Is this a lot for this space? I agree that it is — a lot. But I also agree that it is functional ... (and fills) a need and a space for this community,” said Councilor Natalie Peterson, who voted in support. Councilor John Geissler also voted in favor of the project.
Mayor Wayne Boucher cast the decisive "no" vote. He said the "no" vote doesn't mean the development can't ever happen; it instead needs to be under other conditions. Councilors Kristi Schmidt and Gloria Nelson also voted against.
A vote on the development was tabled in December, as the council cited the need for more information. Boucher said the requested information and project changes were lacking Tuesday night.
“Today (we're) facing the exact same plan that we were facing five weeks ago," Boucher said.
It would have been the most dense development in the city, which was a cause of concern for Michael Koppy, a leader of an anti-development group. The group formed a website that lists several points against the development, as well as a flyer encouraging people to attend Tuesday's meeting.
"People in Hermantown ... they enjoy sort of the rural feeling that farming town has," Koppy said. He believed the development would have impacted that feeling.
In a report, city staff recommend approving the development based on possible job creation, new housing opportunities, economic development and more. The report states that the Arbours would have generated over $110,000 annually for the City of Hermantown, more than $100,000 annually for the school district and over $180,000 for St. Louis County.
“It’s a complex and important issue. (And it) makes sense why folks would be engaged on it. It precedes a type of product and development that we have not yet seen in Hermantown, and some folks view that as a really big positive and other folks view that not as their picture of Hermantown," Joe Wicklund, communications and community engagement manager for the city, said in an interview before the meeting.
The public filled the council room Tuesday night, with over a dozen spilling out of the room. When prompted by Koppy to raise their hands if they opposed the development, a large majority of the room raised hands.
Mary Butorac, who lives next to the proposed project, said during the meeting the height and density "does not fit this location." She didn't want to have a "monstrosity" visible out of her front door, she said.
“I cry every night just thinking of this," Butorac said.
Others were concerned about possible increases in traffic as residents, staff and visitors travel to and from the Arbours.
Hermantown Police Chief James Crace said at the pre-agenda meeting that the increase in traffic would be "just a drop in the bucket."
After voting down the final planned unit development, the council unanimously voted to table another vote on the preliminary plat.
Now, the developer will now go back and revisit the project, Kanuit said.
This story was updated at 11:17 p.m. with information on what was voted down and tabled. It was originally posted at 9:45 p.m.