The Crookston Ways & Means Committee met on Monday night with the majority of the meeting consisting of a lengthy discussion with APG Development’s Elliot Steinbrink.  The committee also recommended a three-year cash farm lease on the Colborn Property minus the 10 acres to be set aside for the Ag Innovation Center and Vertical Malt, tabled a tax abatement request, and approved the Crookston Visitor’s Bureau temporary board (here) with the addition of City Councilmen Jake Fee and Steve Erickson as voting members. The ongoing communication issues within the city and with organizations such as CHEDA were also a focal point of discussion again.

Former Crookston resident Elliot Steinbrink, who is part of the APG group that proposed a mixed-use building to be apartment building on Crookston’s north end last year (here), went before the committee to discuss the situation between APG, the City of Crookston, and the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority (CHEDA).

Elliot said that contrary to what was recently stated at a City Council meeting, APG did not walk away from the development. “After being sent some press releases from the local media regarding it being basically stated during the Council meeting that APG Development walked away from the development in Crookston,” said Steinbrink. “Being from Crookston, I felt it was pretty necessary to voice my concerns to Angel (Weasner, City of Crookston Finance Director/Interim City Administrator) because that was not the case. We put considerable time, effort, and financial resources into putting their apartment development into reality.”

The Crookston City Council received a recommendation from the Planning Commission to approve a variance request by APG Development (here) on July 16, 2019.  Earlier that same day, the CHEDA Board authorized Executive Director Craig Hoiseth to work on finalizing the sale of the property owned by CHEDA where the project was expected to go (here). The recommended variance by the Planning Commission wasn’t presented to the City Council for more than a month, until August 27, when it was included on the consent agenda (here).

Then on September 10, the Crookston City Council discussed the development being held up (here) because Crookston City Attorney Corky Reynolds had informed all parties that state statute for a city with a comprehensive plan required a land-use determination and business subsidy before a sale of a property. Steinbrink said he’s learned that CHEDA had been advised not to sign the purchase agreement that was in place for the property on August 30 in an email from Hoiseth. “It was not until the 30th of August in which there was memo drafted from the City Attorney to Hoiseth on the purchase agreement,” said Steinbrink. “The letter basically stated do not sign this purchase agreement as you have not followed all the proper procedures to get this approved. Skipping down – my opinion based upon review of the applicable Minnesota Statutes, it should not be signed. The proposed real estate purchase agreement, in particular, I refer to is a Minnesota Statute. In my opinion, the Minnesota Statute has not been met. To my knowledge, the Planning Commission of the City of Crookston has not formally reviewed the proposed use, nor reported in writing, to the City Council, it’s findings.”

Steinbrink continued to read from Hoiseth’s email. “This email reads – our City Attorney is new at this and providing very cautious legal advice,” read Stainbrook. “The new learning curve for our legal counsel is what is burning the time up. We all agree to the entire deal, but the City Attorney just wants all the boxes checked off before the execution of the purchase agreement. My hands get pretty tied.”

Steinbrink also mentioned he had initially made 10 attempts to contact CHEDA on the phone number given to him by then-City Administrator Shannon Stassen.  Steinbrink said he left multiple messages on the CHEDA Voicemail at 281-4700, which when dialed Monday night, was not in service.  The phone number for CHEDA is 470-2000.  

Councilman Jake Fee said that despite the comprehensive plan being in place for many years, two previous City Attorney’s had never informed the City Council of any need for a land-use determination. “We were all learning it as we go,” said Fee. “I remember this happening where it got slowed down. Now we know the process we have to follow when we have land-use changes with the Planning Commission to fix this. We need to fix some things on our own end, so a developer doesn’t have to go through what Mr. Steinbrink did. There is no reason for it.” 

Following receiving the information on the need for a land-use determination and business subsidy, the CHEDA Board recommended a business subsidy to the City Council on September 17 (here). That evening, the land use determination recommendation was made by the Planning Commission (here) at which Steinbrink said the project was delayed until at least spring 2020. The business subsidy was then approved with the land-use by the City Council on September 24 (here). Hoiseth updated the CHEDA Board on the status of the APG Development on October 22 (here).

It was also brought up that an October 22 article in the Crookston Times said that APG Development had walked away from the project. Councilman Bobby Baird asked who was the source for the story.  The Times’ Mike Christopherson said he wasn’t able to find it at that time. “I’m trying to search for it,” said Christopherson. “But we have a new website and it’s in the archives, and not coming up.”

Steinbrink said that after the September 23 meeting he never received any information from the City of Crookston or CHEDA regarding the outcome of the meeting until he finally reached out to Weasner in February. The City Councilmen said they’d like to find some way to make the project right with APG Development. But Steinbrook said it might be a tough sell to his investors to come back to Crookston.

Councilman Steve Erickson said somebody dropped the ball on the APG development. “I know I was on the Council when that went through,” said Erickson. “It was a big problem the first time it went through. I don’t know whether it was the City, CHEDA, whoever dropped the ball there. But it was definitely a project that through lack of communication didn’t proceed. Hopefully, we can work it out with Elliot and his company to proceed and get something going on that.”

Baird said it was another communication issue for the city. “That was an ugly deal,” said Baird. “That’s all I can say. That’s another communication issue right there. Somebody dropped the ball on September 23. I couldn’t get a yes or no on it. I feel bad for Elliot and his group. Hopefully, they come back in the spring and we can make this project work for them.”

Councilman Clayton Briggs said the ball wasn’t dropped by the city. “It’s a young man, former Crookston resident, chose Crookston to put up a complex,” said Briggs. “The ball was dropped, and it wasn’t the city that dropped the ball.”

Mayor Dale Stainbrook said he was unsure of what happened. “It was a difficult situation with Elliot how this whole process went down,” said Stainbrook. “I’m not sure who dropped the ball on it or if the ball was dropped at all. I want to make it right with Elliot. I’m not sure if his developers are still willing to do a development in Crookston. I asked him to go back and see if they are still interested. And come back with, not so much their demands, but what as a city we could do for them to make this happen.”

Steinbrink said he’d speak with his investors and have an answer on whether Crookston was still possible with them in the near future.  Steinbrink would like to be able to have a response for the next City Council meeting on September 28 if possible, but the committee also said they’d like to know the status of the APG development before making any decision on progressing with the mixed-use building discussed during the City Council meeting.

The entire APG discussion is below –