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Monroe Common Council rejects housing complex
A public parking lot located north of the downtown Square sits with 48 vehicles occupying the available 79 spots Tuesday afternoon before a meeting of the Monroe Common Council was held to decide whether a three-story apartment complex should be built in place of the lot. The council voted down the project 8-1. Affordable, quality housing was identified in the recently adopted Monroe Comprehensive Plan as a need for the city. (Times photo: Bridget Cooke)
MONROE - The Monroe Common Council voted against a plan to build a 40-unit apartment building north of the downtown Square during a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the proposal for a third time.

The motion from alderman Ron Marsh to "set the project aside and not spend any more money" was approved in an 8-1 vote in which council member Richard Thoman voted no. A theme in discussion among council members was the expense to the city.

"It's too costly," Marsh said. "It's just way too costly."

Budget projections placed a city contribution of roughly $1.125 million from Tax Increment District 7, which encompasses downtown.

The original plans were for the location of the municipal parking ramp, but the council rejected the proposal after hearing concerns from local businesses regarding a lack of parking. At the time, Hammond said the company would consider the north lot along 15th Avenue and 8th Street as an alternate location.

The flat lot north of the Square, typically referred to as the TDS lot, is mostly used by TDS employees, employees of other nearby businesses or area residents. It provides just under 100 spaces with an outlet running to 17th Avenue.

Though council members said they favored the idea of the project at the time, the group found the project for the L-shaped building to not be financially feasible during the Tuesday meeting.

MSP Real Estate, which is a development company based in Minneapolis with offices in both Madison and Milwaukee has been building throughout the state in places like Chippewa Falls, Madison and Middleton. MSP Director of Development Mark Hammond said each municipality has been a willing partner in developments in their cities but understood reservations by the city of Monroe.

"We tried to whittle down our request ... knowing it's going to be a tough decision for you guys," Hammond said.

Alderman Michael Boyce said it was a financial decision because he did not approve of the idea of the city general fund covering the costs of the project's gap request if TID 7 could not provide coverage funds. Fellow council member Charles Koch said he preferred to see any funding the city may have to revitalize current living space, while alderwoman Brooke Bauman pointed out the need for more units was the main problem addressed in the recently drafted Monroe Comprehensive Plan.

The building proposal included a three-story apartment complex with units ranging from one to three bedrooms, private parking and a variety of income levels. Hammond said while some apartments would be rented under the market value, others would qualify for a low-income tax credit. For those young professionals or elderly citizens living on what Hammond referred to as a "modest income," prices would fall a bit lower. For instance, someone making $15,000 to 20,000 per year would pay roughly $400 in rent for a one-bedroom, while those renting the three-bedroom unit at market value would pay an estimated $1,000 monthly.

City Administrator Phil Rath said the project "fits in the TIF plan, fits in the TIF financial plan and TIF 7 is still getting positive growth," but the decision regarding the financial piece ultimately fell to whether the council wanted to take on that responsibility.

Hammond said the idea of any project similar to the one proposed would most likely not pay for itself.

"Additional housing is almost certainly going to require some level of investment," Hammond said.

Alderman Jeff Newcomer said he would rather see development downtown for new residents and more people within the city and understands that "somebody's gotta pay for it," though ultimately voted against the project.