Neighbors to discuss building project planned near Minnesota State University Moorhead
By: Dave Olson, The Fargo Forum
The developer of a controversial $10 million student housing complex proposed near Minnesota State University Moorhead said his plan may have to be modified after a neighborhood meeting planned for Tuesday night.
Developer Dean Ahmann won’t formally ask to have the property rezoned until November. However, the Tuesday meeting will allow residents, who say the project doesn’t fit with the neighborhood, to air their complaints.
Meanwhile, one Moorhead couple is warning the city to proceed cautiously with Ahmann, having experienced their own problems with one of his past development projects.
Ahmann has formed a company called Aristotek, which plans to build the four-story structure on part of a city block across the street from the MSUM campus.
Plans for what is being called Campus Commons envision 30 four-bedroom apartments, three three-bedroom apartments and four one-bedroom units.
About 30 percent of the lower level would be devoted to things such as coffee and pizza shops and perhaps a pub, according to Ahmann.
Ahmann plans to go before the Moorhead Planning Commission in November with a request to have the area rezoned for mixed use. It is currently zoned residential.
Ahmann made an informal presentation to the commission in September, which caused a stir among people in the neighborhood, said Donna McMaster, who lives at 906 7th Ave. S.
McMaster said she and her neighbors aren’t opposed to development, but she said they believe the current design, with its four-story building, seems oversized for the available space.
“I think the neighbors are pretty much in agreement that a two-story building would be fine. The scale of a two-story building would fit into the neighborhood,” said McMaster, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1975.
Ahmann has experienced conflict with his own neighbors in recent years.
Craig and Joanne Proehl used to live in the same neighborhood as Ahmann when Ahmann was the developer who built the twin home they live in.
In 2007, the couple filed an action in Clay County District Court against Ahmann and his company, D&S Builders, seeking about $1,800 for repairs and other work they say he promised to do but didn’t follow through on.
The court granted the Proehls a judgment, which remains unpaid.
It is one of several judgments on file in Clay County District Court and Cass County District Court that name Ahmann, or D&S Builders, as a defendant.
They include at least two judgments of more than $20,000 each and one for more than $51,000, the latter stemming from an action filed in 2005 in Cass County District Court.
Court records show the $51,000 judgment was satisfied in early 2009.
Ahmann said he has satisfied several other judgments as well, stating they had to do with business disputes.
He said an eviction action filed against him in Clay County District Court has also been settled. That action, filed in 2007, sought $8,225 for nonpayment of rent.
According to a document filed with the eviction action, Ahmann did not pay several months rent on a home he leased for $1,400 a month.
Ahmann said the eviction involved a dispute with business partners.
Craig Proehl said when he recently learned that Ahmann was proposing a new development, he went to a city council member and voiced his concerns.
Any rezoning request is ultimately decided by the city council, according to Kristie Leshovsky, acting city planner.
Ahmann said if the rezoning is successful he has purchase agreements in place to buy about nine parcels on the city block located across 10th Street from MSUM.
He said the parcels are rental properties, adding that residents of the neighborhood may decide to welcome the project after learning more about it.
“I think once a lot of them see what’s happening and what we’re taking out, I think they’ll be more open to it,” said Ahmann.
McMaster said her neighborhood has experienced problems with rental properties in the past, but she said many of the issues disappeared after the city cracked down with tougher regulations.
“After the city set things up so they could revoke rental licenses, everything quieted down,” she said. “It was amazing to see not only neighbors, but my husband and me, putting money into our homes because it was worth it,” said McMaster.
“If you go up and down Ninth Street,” she said, “you’ll see a lot of the houses have signs that say, ‘Historic Comstock Neighborhood’ and then the year the home was built. We take great pride in our homes.”
Ahmann said he hopes the project will get the necessary approval from the city early enough for demolition of existing properties to start early next year.
Leshovsky said the city planning office provided Ahmann with information on basic building codes as well as the process he needs to complete for a rezoning and amendment of the city’s comprehensive plan.
Leshovsky said Ahmann talked about possibly sharing parking with MSUM, but she said a university official has said the project will have to stand on its own.
Ahmann said he is working on the development along with a cousin, Robert Ahmann, from Rochester, Minn., and a development company from Rochester.
He said one compromise they are considering to make the project more acceptable to neighbors is to run the building parallel with 10th Street, situating it directly across from MSUM.
Current plans have the building facing Seventh Avenue.
“If we have to make some compromises to make them (residents) happy, we’ll take a look at that,” said Ahmann.
He said the project was inspired by a similar development in Madison, Wis., that focuses on student housing.
Ahmann said the Moorhead project has been in the works for about two years and began with help from an MSUM marketing class, which he said did a study using focus groups.