Mendota Heights approves land use change to make way for new apartments

While plans are in the early stages, construction of a new apartment complex on the site of the former Larson Garden Center and Mendota Motel could begin in August. It is proposed to be constructed in two phases, with the second phase beginning mid-summer to fall of 2018.

Mendota Heights is clearing the way for plans to build a new apartment complex along Highway 13.

At its June 6 meeting, the Mendota Heights City Council unanimously approved a resolution to add an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan changing the land-use designation of two properties to high density residential-planned unit development.

Tim Benetti, the city’s community development director, said the action came at the request of Michael Swenson of Michael Development, who is interested in building two 69-unit market-rate apartment buildings at 2180 and 2160-64 Highway 13.

The Mendota Motel and the Larson Garden Center, which is now closed, currently occupy the lots. The current structures would be removed or relocated. 

Benetti said at the June 6 meeting that the former garden center site is in a state of disrepair and could not be easily repurposed for a similar business.

An initial assessment of the Mendota Motel indicated it was becoming functionally obsolete because of not meeting many general and acceptable building code standards. 


A long process

Benetti said amending the comprehensive plan is the first step in a multi-phased process that Swenson would be going through. 
A comprehensive plan is a 20-year blueprint required by the Metropolitan Council for all communities within the seven county metro area. Cities are required to prepare one every 10 years. Benetti said the city is working on a plan update that will be its 2040 Comprehensive plan.

“It also establishes some goals and policies for the city to follow as we continue to grow as a community within the metropolitan area,” Benetti said. 

The current 2030 land use plan was put together by Mendota Heights about eight years ago, when the city designated areas for specific uses, such as single-family housing or business. As the area changes, those land-use designations may need to be tweaked.

Both the Mendota Motel and the former Larson Garden Center sites were designated for business use.

“A multi-family development would not be able to go onto a business-guided site like this,” Benetti said.

Back in November 2015, Michael Development sought to develop the Larson Garden Center into a 70-unit apartment building. Swenson said he first looked at the location because it’s a first-ring location that is near a highway, close to the airport and is a quiet, residential neighborhood, but the application was later withdrawn.


Development plans

In early 2017, Michael Development informed the city that it had secured development rights to the Mendota Motel, and later, rights to the Larson Garden Center. Swenson said the market conditions indicated these sites could support the 138-unit complex.
The apartments will be a mix of studio, one bedroom, and two-bedroom units. Swenson said there would be a variety of amenities like an exercise room, conference rooms, underground parking and onsite management.

In order for Michael Development to get the green light for the apartments, there are several steps that need to be taken. Benetti said changing the land use language was necessary for rezoning the area.

“Right now, it’s important to get the land use changed because that sets the stage for the rezoning application that is coming later on,” he said.

The development could possibly be a part of a tax increment financing district. Benetti said TIF districts are a state-authorized tool cities can use for redevelopment to help out private or public groups with funding. Some of the increased tax revenue spurred by the development is paid to the developer for a finite number of years.

Establishing a TIF 2 district, which is a redevelopment district, would help Michael Development pay for some of the costs it accrues as part of the project. Benetti said only certain things are TIF eligible, like site cleanup and utility work.

Though Benetti said Michael Development has said the project would primarily be privately funded, if the TIF district is approved on June 20 it would provide funding sources that would help the developer.

The TIF district is recommended to last for 11 years.


Next steps

Following the meeting, Benetti said the application for the land use change was sent to the Met Council, which has to approve any comprehensive plan amendments.
He said it typically approves amendments that make way for new housing, but he noted, “it’s the Met Council’s call on whether they approve it or don’t approve it.”

Mayor Neil Garlock said at the meeting he thinks all on the council are looking forward to the project.

“Mr. Swenson has done an outstanding job of giving us a good overview and lot of information on the development,” he said.

With the approval of the land use change, Michael Development is able to start working on plans for rezoning, replatting and the conditional use permit. Benetti said while all these are separate items, they are tied together. He said he expects them to be submitted at the end of this month or the end of July.

With all the necessary approvals, construction on the apartment buildings could begin Aug. 1.


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or









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