MOORHEAD – In a split vote Monday night, City Council members here rescinded a resolution unanimously passed last week that opposed a proposed apartment for the homeless on the city’s north side.
Councilwoman Brenda Elmer made the motion to reconsider the resolution, which stated that the council opposed the 41-unit apartment at 315 34th St. N. being proposed by Churches United for the Homeless.
The resolution was purely political. The city has no authority to stop the project because Churches United owns the land and it is zoned properly for an apartment complex.
“I did feel very uneasy about rubbing salt in the wound, if you will, and that it didn’t impact the location,” Elmer said.
She said the city is only a passenger on this trip with Churches United, which is seeking a $6 million deferred loan from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to fund construction.
“We don’t have input necessarily on our destination, but we are along for the ride,” Elmer said. “And we can either make it a tolerable trip, a successful trip, or we can kick and scream all the way and make it miserable for everybody.”
Monday night’s meeting was technically a continuation of last week’s meeting, so the council had to vote to reconsider the resolution and then have another vote on the resolution.
After agreeing to reconsider the resolution, the council voted 5-4 to shoot it down. Voting against the resolution were Elmer, Mari Dailey, Heidi Durand and Chuck Hendrickson. Voting for it were Nancy Otto, Jim Haney, Mike Hulett and Steve Gehrtz.
Mayor Del Rae Williams, who said during the meeting that she personally supports the project, cast the tie-breaking vote against the resolution.
Some council members saw the action as flip-flopping because of negative media coverage.
“To me, it’s like we’re a flag flapping in the wind,” Gehrtz said. “Either we stand by this resolution or we don’t.”
Elmer said media coverage was not her motivation to rescind the resolution.
Dailey said she voted against the project last week because she had heard only negative comments from constituents.
“I voted my ward,” Dailey said. “I put aside my personal values for this.”
After the vote, she said she heard from several residents who support the project, including from some who live in the nearby Arbor Park and Pine View neighborhoods.
Otto said she would rather amend the language of the resolution than rescind it. She pointed out that angered residents packed two City Council meetings and two Clay County Commission meetings, plus another meeting at a local church.
“That’s five different meetings citizens have been to and it’s been solid and it’s been staunch, and now we’re saying we don’t want to make a statement?” Otto asked.
Elmer said she receives citizen comments on controversial issues often.
“But it doesn’t mean that we always have to pass a resolution in response to concerns we hear and send it to the state,” she said.
Council and resident concerns about the project will still be included in a letter to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Asking local communities for a letter of input about a proposed project is common practice for the agency, said City Manager Michael Redlinger.
Following council suggestions Monday, the letter will include that the city “desires to work collaboratively with Churches United on coordination and public outreach for the project.”
A draft of that letter given to The Forum late Monday also mentions that there is “significant neighborhood concern and Council Member objection” to the proposed location of the apartment. Otto asked that that be included.
“I don’t think that four council members should be ignored,” she said.
Before the vote, Gehrtz expressed concerns that Churches United wasn’t being totally upfront with the officials or residents.
While Churches United officials have maintained they want tenants of the proposed building to be ���good neighbors,” Gehrtz said they’ve maintained one attitude with the media: “We’re putting it there no matter what.”
Haney, who made the original motion last week to oppose the project on that site, said he was also bothered that Churches United didn’t spell out where the apartment would be located when asking the county for a letter of support.
“It made me feel like we were being sold a bill of goods,” Haney said.
Elmer said she was also frustrated by the path that Churches United took prior to applying for state funding, but she said that’s water under the bridge.
“They made a determination that they want to move forward with this project with or without our blessing, and so I’m just stating that I would rather work with them in good faith,” Elmer said.