Senior Housing: Old public works site considered for Senior housing co-op

by Mark Nicklawske for White Bear Press

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Seniors could have a new housing option near a busy lakefront commercial district under a redevelopment plan for city-owned property.

The White Bear Lake City Council discussed a proposal Oct. 12 to build a three-story, 60-unit senior housing cooperative on former public works property west of Highway 61 and south of Whitaker Street. The Public Works Department will relocate its shops and offices this fall to a new facility under construction on 61 south of County Road F.

Community Development Director Jim Robinson said the city supports housing development on the public works property because it would increase population around the Marina Triangle commercial area. He said there is no other co-operative senior housing in the city.

“Our market analysis indicates there is a strong demand for all types of senior housing here,” Robinson said.

Selling the old public works property for private redevelopment would also help offset the new public works site property purchase, he said.

Developer Keith Jans of Real Estate Equities (REE) said White Bear Lake is a good location for senior co-op housing. REE operates 10 senior co-ops in outstate Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa and is moving into the Twin Cities market.

“We have looked at multiple sites in the Twin Cities and came back to this site,” he said. “We think this type of housing is lacking in the market.”

Jans said there are about 100 senior co-ops operating in the Twin Cities metro area.

Under the co-op model, seniors 55 and over who meet high-income minimums can buy a unit and pay annual co-op fees. The co-op fees are managed by residents and used to maintain the building and grounds and organize events and activities around common space.

Unit values appreciate 3 percent a year and when residents sell, they are returned the unit purchase price plus the annual 3 percent increase for their time spent at the co-op.


Jans said unit shares typically cost between $50,000 and $100,000 and monthly fees range from $800 to $1,500.

“I think it’s a good plan for that site,” said Councilman Bryan Belisle. “But I’d like to see a request for proposals and see what other options come back.”

Belisle said the site could be attractive to developers. It’s surrounded by marshland, near walking and biking trails, restaurants, a grocery store and the lake, he said.

But the site also has its limitations: Only five of its 18 acres are suitable for building. During research for public works facility improvements, the city learned it needed $750,000 in soil corrections for any new construction.

Mayor Jo Emerson said the senior co-op plan could be the best thing for the site and the city.

“In this down economy, do we really need to go out (for an RFP)?” she asked.

Administrator Mark Sather said staff would like to further explore the REE cooperative housing plan and other options for the property. He said the old public works site may not be restricted to simply housing redevelopment.

“The site has its advantages due to its location,” he said.

The council agreed and directed city staff to continue investigating development options for the public works site.


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