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Sunday December 10th 2017

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Greenway Heights affordable rental apartments: EPIC’s 12 years of work: Shovels in the ground!

By Carol Pass

Greenway Heights, the only affordable family rental apartments on the Midtown Greenway, is under construction at 2845 Bloomington Avenue and extending across the north crest of the Greenway to 16th Avenue.

East Phillips Improvement Coalition worked for 12 years to get as close to what the neighborhood residents wanted: affordability, low density, family housing.

When asked, if these kinds of projects are usually so hard and long; or do some just slide through? Kathy Wetzel of partner PRG said, “they are usually hard and long like this one.” We are glad we didn’t know that at the outset.

The history of this project is long and convoluted with many characters that drifted in and out. The initial effort to purchase the land occurred when the East Phillips Commons redevelopment project began in 2002. The redevelopment area laid out by the City encompassed the whole Bloomington and Lake Street intersection on both sides over to and including 16th Avenue and north to halfway down the 2800 block. The initial plan was for town homes on the Greenway. Home ownership family housing was the mantra for neighborhood stability.

EPIC’s housing task force was at work on the 2909 Bloomington building as project #1 of the Commons and by the time that was finished, the lots for this new project had all been purchased and the price had gone up beyond what our project could manage. The old houses there were torn down and the land sat vacant.

A few years passed and a new developer came to build there. EPIC had no title, no builder, and not enough money to counter their offer. We all still hoped for town homes, but the new developer insisted on 81 units of one bedroom and studio apartments, five to six stories high, despite neighborhood opposition. We felt powerless, but we did our best to assert the neighborhood preference, because this was not anything residents wanted or needed. East Phillips desperately needed family housing for the surrounding immigrant and other large working families. We still hoped for town homes.

Finally, we proved too strong in our protest and these developers went away…but we still feared a repeat of this if we did not own the land and we thought next time we won’t be so lucky. So we sought a partner to help us and turned to PRG, EPIC’s original partner for the 24th Street town homes. EPIC members voted to do the down payment from NRP Phase I funds and PRG took out a big loan to secure the land. We felt safe and sought a developer for the project. We had drawings and beautiful examples of town homes, when the housing market collapse happened. Everything sat and EPIC moved onto other concerns for some years.

As the loan was slowly coming due, EPIC members and board began frantically searching for a developer, but no one could manage the dollar gap of the project with town homes or even an apartment building. Finally, again, an old neighborhood friend, Loren Brueggemann of Phoenix Development agreed to be EPIC’s builder. EPIC members met in several big meetings to help design the building. Most residents had never participated in such a thing. It was very exciting and fun. We were getting close to what we originally wanted: family affordable housing. After much research, we realized we had to drop the home owner part in favor of having a project at all. The City also was pressing for density, so we requested the developer build as low density as possible and still make things work.

The building, designed partly by the community, is now rising on the north crest of the Midtown Greenway. EPIC members and board are proud and are confidant new residents and others seeing it will also appreciate this new addition to the neighborhood.

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