New housing is a battle across Southeast Minnesota
From Spring Grove to Plainview, a mixture of housing is the recipe for smart growth.
SPRING GROVE — Eight housing units would be a nice start.
The City of Spring Grove is hoping to find a developer interested in building eight townhouses on a lot owned by the city since 1998. If developed, the acre-and-a-half lot, located about a block from the city's downtown, would be the first new housing in years.
In 2020 and so far in 2021, the city issued no permits for new housing, either single-family homes or multifamily dwellings, said City Administrator Julie Amundson.
"Right now, we're just seeking offers to see if anyone's interested in the land," said Alex Herr, Spring Grove economic development director.
A common problem
In many ways, the problem of attracting housing and business is common across Southeast Minnesota.
Plainview City Administrator David Todd said his city council was planning to pass an ordinance creating a new special-use zoning district that would allow mixed-use commercial and residential along the Minnesota Highway 42 corridor running through town.
The area is currently surrounded by residential zones, and the city requires zones to be contiguous. By adding the new special-use zone, it would allow developers to bring projects to the city that don't fit the residential classification in a certain area.
"It would be a project-driven kind of thing," Todd said. "If someone wants a row of apartment buildings with a mix of commercial, this would allow more flexibility for working with developers. It's another tool in the toolbox."
Todd said the city's comprehensive plan, which is only a few years old, did not take into account the zoning problems, so the new zoning district would allow the city to meet its goals along Highway 42.
Mixing housing styles
Like Spring Valley, Plainview is hoping to bring more housing, but, Todd said, the city wants a better mix of housing.
Almost exclusively, recent housing growth in Plainview has been single-family homes, and most have not been in the lower-cost affordable housing segment of the market.
"Our housing study has identified a deficiency in multifamily housing," Todd said. "We're looking for developers who are putting in multifamily housing. We would also like commercial development. These things go hand in hand."
LeRoy Economic Development Authority Coordinator Rebecca Charles, who previously worked in communities such as Hayfield, Rushford Village, Grand Meadow and Spring Grove, said one of the problems many small towns face is that empty-nesters don't have housing into which they can downsize.
"We have people living in rather large homes that are ready to downsize, but there’s no housing stock for them," she said.
The problem, Charles said, is creating opportunities where developers can make a profit.
St. Charles City Administrator Nick Koverman said while his city council is approving plats for two subdivisions that will add 24 buildable lots in town, it's all single-family so far.
"I think every community is looking for multifamily homes," he said. "You need all those sectors."
But every bit of new housing helps, since, according to county estimates, Winona County needs about 100 new lots for construction in its cities.
Getting those lots developed — city infrastructure of sewer, water and streets — is one thing. Getting houses built is another.
"What we’re planning to do is defer (sewer and water hookup) charges," Koverman said. "We want to help (developers) with upfront cost hurdles."
Herr said he's not sure what incentives Spring Grove will offer developers. Right now, the city has posted a request for proposals on its website, and they are looking to see what developers ask before making any offers.
But make no mistake, the city wants to start seeing new housing. In addition to homes for in-town workers, the city's location means it serves as a home for commuters to Caledonia and La Crosse in Minnesota and Decorah, Iowa, among other towns. So those eight townhomes are just the start.
"From a housing study done in 2020, by 2030, Spring Grove will need 46 new homes built on new lots," Amundson said. "And 36 housing units will need replacement because of age and deterioration."