Despite the vocal opposition of residents in attendance and a majority of the city’s Planning Commission, the Mendota Heights City Council voted 3-2 on November 3 to approve At Home Apartments’ plan for a new 58-unit building on a vacant parcel in Mendota Plaza at the southeast corner of Dodd Road and Highway 62.

Mendota Plaza
The Mendota Heights City Council voted 3-2 on November 3 to approve a plan for a 58-unit apartment building on a vacant 2-acre parcel at Mendota Plaza.
Voting in favor of the four-story apartment building were council members Joel Paper and John Mazzitello and Mayor Stephanie Levine. Council members Jay Miller and Ultan Duggan voted against. With discussion running past midnight, the City Council postponed until November 16 its vote on At Home’s plan for a four-story, 89-unit apartment building on a second vacant parcel at Mendota Plaza.
 
Traffic was far and away the biggest concern at the City Council hearing on November 3 and at an October 26 hearing before the Planning Commission. Well over a dozen residents argued that the apartment buildings will add to the already severe congestion on Dodd Road. During rush hour, traffic on Dodd can be backed up for a half mile behind the light at Highway 62 and making a left-turn can mean as much as an 11-minute wait, residents said.
 
Bernard Friel, a former member of the Planning Commission, said construction of the two apartment buildings is an attempt to shoehorn development into an already cramped space, an effort he considered dangerous given the traffic concerns. “There’s nothing desirable about these spots,” he said. “(The buildings) are just crammed into those spaces.”
 
Compounding matters is the inability of the developer and the city to make any improvements to the intersection, which is under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Although the intersection of Dodd and Highway 62 has been given a grade of “F” by the state, MnDOT has said it has more pressing concerns to attend to.
 
Mendota Plaza
The diagram above of Mendota Plaza shows the two vacant parcels where 58-unit and an 89-unit buildings are planned by At Home Apartments. Highway 62 is at the top of the diagram and Dodd Road (TH 149) is at left.
The apartment buildings have been proposed for two 2-acre parcels within the roughly 21-acre planned unit development (PUD) that was created in 2009 at Mendota Plaza. The original intent was to build a strip mall, a four-story apartment building, a smaller retail strip, offices, multiple restaurants, a child care center and a pharmacy there. However, the plans have changed over the years.
 
The two new apartment buildings are expected to generate an average of 798 cars per day in traffic, which is down from the average of 1,024 cars per day projected for the restaurants and day care center that had been planned for those parcels.
 
“Solving the traffic (at Highway 62 and Dodd), that’s not our issue to solve,” said Richard Paster of Paster Properties, which owns Mendota Plaza. Paster argued that the two apartment buildings would bring much-needed business to the retailers at Mendota Plaza and would attract younger residents, which will help bolster the city’s future.
 
To address the traffic issues, council member Mazzitello proposed establishing a new committee made up of local residents and representatives of the City Council, Mendota Heights’ Fire and Police Departments and Dakota County government, among others. Potential tasks for the committee will be securing grants for road improvements.
 
“No more kick the can. No more just talking about it,” said council member Paper in reference to the traffic problems and the new committee.
 
The Mendota Plaza PUD was established to facilitate a cluster of varied but compatible new land uses at the site. Among the several amendments it has undergone over the years was one allowing for the construction of the Reserve Apartments by At Home at the northeast corner of the site. Another one led to the construction of the Gemini Medical office building.
 
The City Council’s vote on November 3 followed votes of 5-2 and 6-1 by the Planning Commission to reject the plans for the 58-unit and 89-unit buildings, respectively.
 
Council member Miller, whose motion to reject the 58-unit building drew applause from the audience on November 3, believes the two buildings will hurt the city’s character. “We have the luxury of deciding what goes in and what it looks like,” Miller said. “This PUD doesn’t strip us of that responsibility.”
 
Mazzitello defended the At Home projects. According to him, the recent mixed-use Linden development off Dodd Road just north of Highway 62 drew less scrutiny from the city. “We need to work on treating our applicants fairly and equitably,” he said.

— Casey Ek

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