ALTOONA — A group of Altoona residents aren’t seeing eye-to-eye with the city and a developer on a new condominium development destined for a lakeside neighborhood.
The proposed six buildings, which would include 36 condos on Lake Road on the south side of Lake Altoona, have gotten final approvals and a purchase agreement from the city.
The city is pleased about adding more affordable housing, city planner Joshua Clements said Tuesday. According to a development agreement signed last year, two-thirds of the units must be affordable to people earning 150% of the area’s median income.
Some residents of the Lake Road neighborhood are criticizing the 36-unit, six-building plan for the land.
Several residents told the Leader-Telegram they are concerned the condos won’t fit the neighborhood’s feel and existing single-family homes; would add to local traffic; and would sit too close to a nearby bike trail. Others said they felt the city hadn’t been adequately transparent while it worked with the developer.
The 36-unit plan “doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood,” said Carolyn Carlson of Altoona, who lives across the street from the proposed development. “We are all residential … it just doesn’t fit the character of a single-family home. I understand they want to provide housing, but our preference would be to keep it similar so we’re all single-family residents.”
Ann Gunderson Thornburg of Altoona, who lives slightly less a half-mile from the proposed development, said she doesn’t believe the property is appropriate for housing, calling the 36-unit plan too dense.
“In light of the future economic downturn, building an undesirable project with too-great density and a lack of any attractive components is just bad government and bad business,” Thornburg told the Leader-Telegram.
Most residents who spoke to the Leader-Telegram are calling for GRIP Development, which is spearheading the project, to scale the original 36-unit proposal down to 24 units.
Emily Blaskey of Altoona, who lives around a half-mile away from the proposed development, said she is in favor of a smaller, 24-unit development. Blaskey hopes the community can negotiate to push the development further away from a bike trail that runs nearby, and flip several of the buildings so their patios do not face the bike trail, she said.
“People realized they have to compromise, but it’s not a bad compromise,” Blaskey said. Thornburg also favors 24 units instead of 36.
Kristy Goettl of Altoona, who lives within a quarter-mile of the proposed development, expressed concern over both a 24-unit and 36-unit proposal.
“This is not in the scale and scope of the guidelines set forth by the city themselves,” Goettl said, adding also that she is concerned about increased traffic.
Project already has approval
The property, owned by the city, is roughly four acres.
GRIP Development’s six-building, 36-condominium plan for the site, as well as the sale of the land, has already gotten approval from the City Council, Clements said.
“They have a fully approved project,” Clements said.
At a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, the Altoona City Council is set to discuss the Lake Road property in closed session.
GRIP Development is exploring what a scaled-down, 24-unit development would look like, but it would be cost-prohibitive, Clements said.
“If you want this scaled down to 24 units ... it would require the city to invest some money into this project,” Clements said. “That’s the discussion that could take place in closed session on Thursday. The council may or may not take action. Right now (GRIP) has a fully approved project.”
(The City Council on Thursday is also set to discuss amending its development agreement with GRIP, which would allow the company to build the condos’ utilities in one phase, rather than two separate phases, Clements said.)
GRIP Development did not immediately respond Tuesday to a phone call seeking comment.
The developing company has recently been involved in negotiating other local housing projects. The Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority in November granted a memorandum of understanding to GRIP for the 2300 block of First Street; the company proposed to build a group of townhouses at the roughly two-acre site there.
Criticism from area residents
Residents of the Lake Road area describe their concern about the project as a months-long fight, including a yard sign campaign criticizing the condominium plan.
Blaskey said multiple people who lived within 200 feet of the proposed development hadn’t been notified before the city held public hearings on the project.
The city held three public hearings for the project, Clements said: One on the rezoning of the property from single-family residential and public to River Prairie Mixed Use District use; one to certify the city’s survey map; and a third hearing on the condominium plat — a legal map distinguishing between condo owners’ property and common property.
For the first and second hearings, the city sent notices to homeowners who live within 250 feet of the proposed development, in accordance with city ordinance, Clements said. For the third hearing, the city mistakenly didn’t send out notices to homeowners, he said.
The city then mailed notices to homeowners and held another public hearing, and did not vote again on the project until after the second hearing, Clements said.
“There are people who live outside that 250-foot range who felt like they should have been notified,” Clements said. “... We didn’t at that time contemplate a larger distribution … that might change how we do things in the future.”
Several residents said they were concerned about the condos becoming rentals.
“My biggest fear is they won’t be able to sell those condos and they’ll turn into transient rental housing with all the issues that go with it,” Thornburg said.
If the units aren’t sold within a certain timeframe, they will be able to be rented, but only on a month-to-month basis, Clements said.
“We can’t, by state statute, prevent or require them from being rented, but we explicitly wanted to create ownership opportunities,” he said.
The city has already signed a purchase agreement with the developer, with a $108,000 price for the land. That purchase agreement has set the property’s closing date in March, but GRIP Development can close on the property earlier “if all their contingencies are met,” Clements said.
If the developer moves ahead with 36 units at the site, groundbreaking is scheduled for March, Clements said.
“We’re trying to have some homes that can be affordable to people earning under 150% of the area median income,” Clements said. “The least expensive single-family homes being developed in our region just barely meet that threshold.”
In spring 2020, the development plan estimated entry-level units would be priced at $170,000 to $185,000, and larger units estimated at $215,000 to $225,000, though those prices may have gone up due to an increase in construction costs, Clements said.