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City conveys land to Habitat

The City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to OK a "conditional conveyance" of city-owned land to St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity.

River Falls agreed to give SCVHFH title to a five-acre site along Apollo Road, an unpaved street bordered by Maple Street to the north, sewage-treatment plant to the south, compost site to the east and city limits to the west.

Habitat agreed to build low-to-moderate-income housing on the site in five years and "provide at its sole expense" permits, approvals, zoning and infrastructure.

Council members Joleen Larson and Tom Caflisch voted against the resolution; Council Member Mike Woolsey was absent.

Community Planning and Development Director Buddy Lucero explained that city staff has been working with SCVHFH for about a year, talking about an eco-village concept -- reported in the Journal Feb. 19 -- that might fit the site.

Resident Pat Meyer said she lives across from the Apollo Road site and has nothing against Habitat or affordable housing but has concerns that the city is doing the deal too fast. She mentioned that Apollo Road has no secondary outlet.

Larson asked about the study done in 2000 revealing that the city doesn't have enough affordable housing for low-to-moderate income people.

She mentioned knowing that the River Falls Housing Authority has units sitting empty and wondering how much more affordable housing the city needs.

"Has anybody done a recent study about affordable housing?" asked Larson.

Caflisch was concerned that the homes would be affordable and questioned what happens to the Meyers' yard when a road is constructed.

Council Member Wayne Beebe admitted having doubts and questions, too. But he pointed out that if Habitat can't fulfill the agreement, the land reverts back to the city.

Beebe said people will be able to comment throughout the development process.

SCVHFH Directory Amy Muzzy answered questions with help from the technical team developing the concept. She cited studies and said she knows the need exists. She said not owning the land makes it difficult to get answers about grants.

She said home prices average $75,000-$85,000. Prospective owners must demonstrate need, be able to pay (income) and partner with Habitat to help build.

Mayor Don Richards said he thinks there's a big difference between the population at the local housing authority facilities and those applying for a Habitat home.

Mentioning energy savings of the eco-village, he said, "There are few opportunities that come up for a city to offer affordable housing as good as is a positive reflection on the city and tax revenue from a place not easy to sell to prospective homeowners."