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Farmington officials take a fresh look at Vermillion River Crossings

The Vermillion River Crossings property south of County Road 50 and west of Denmark Avenue has been available for development for more than a decade.

Farmington city planner Lee Smick knows how much things can change in eight years. That's why she wants to know if the pre-existing plans for the Vermillion River Crossings commercial development are still good.

As far back as 2001, Farmington officials designated the area west of Denmark Avenue and south of County Road 50 as the site for the next significant commercial development in the community. A master plan for the development was approved in 2003. The city even applied for a grant to build a bridge over the Vermillion River, and then constructed the bridge to the west, extending Spruce Street to the area. The last revisions to the development plan were made in 2005.

And then everything came to a screeching halt, thanks to a recession.

Fast-forward to 2013. The area designated for Vermillion River Crossings is still widely undeveloped, but for a few businesses and a new senior housing complex which opened last fall. But now the recession is easing, and local officials want to see progress in that commercial development.

The only problem is, Smick isn't sure today's officials have the same priorities as those who originally approved the master plan. Christy Jo Fogarty is the only council member who was involved with the 2003 master plan. Mayor Todd Larson was on the planning commission at the time.

Concepts and trends in commercial developments have changed over the past eight years.

"We need to talk about the concept and whether or not it still makes sense to try to do," Smick said.

To get those conversations started, Smick brought all of the original plans -- even right down to the building and design standards -- to Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting. Commissioner Dirk Rotty is the only sitting member who worked through the process years ago. This week's presentation was, in part, an introduction of the project to the other four members.

The Economic Development Authority will also start reviewing the older documents in the next couple of weeks, Smick said.

Changes and similarities

One of the goals of the 2003 master plan was to incorporate housing into the commercial development, Smick said. The original plan was to develop two-story buildings where commercial space could be at ground level, but apartments would be available above the businesses.

In a way, the senior housing complex built by the Dakota County Community Development Agency helps meet the walkability objective of the earlier plan, Smick said.

"It's laying out very well for the walkable plans that we had. That was a perfect opportunity for us," she said.

However, other parts of the plan may not be as useful now. The strip mall concept popular a decade ago is not so popular anymore, Smick said, so that is one of the standards she hopes to have addressed.

The new trend is to develop something with a downtown feel, with individual buildings that abut a sidewalk, and parking spaces along the streets rather than in large lots. Even the building façade trends have changed.

"Let's go back and rethink what our original concept was, and how to make it more of an opportunity for commercial development to occur," Smick said. "It's always good to readdress things that have been sitting on the shelf for a while. Something's not working out there, and we need to resolve it."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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