Country Village is back in business
Council grants 1 provisional license, seeks guarantees
Country Village Apartments, which was shut down in March after the owners repeatedly missed deadlines for fixing numerous code violations, is back in business.
Burnsville City Council members, at wit’s end over squalid living conditions discovered more than a year ago and the missed deadlines that followed, voted 3-1 Aug. 21 to grant owner Lindahl Properties a provisional rental license to reoccupy one of the complex’s six buildings.
Under a staggered arrangement, licenses could soon be granted for two more buildings, and the entire west Burnsville complex could be temporarily relicensed by the end of the year.
Failure to meet a Dec. 31 repair deadline for the last three buildings will bring fines of $100 per building per day. Lindahl representatives were ordered to reappear before the council until then to give progress reports.
The city revoked the 138-unit complex’s rental license in January, and residents were given until March 1 to leave.
With the buildings empty, work on fixing hundreds of building, fire and property maintenance code violations began in earnest.
Lindahl applied for provisional license for three buildings – 3805 Sibley, 3809 Sibley and 3848 Hamilton – and an Aug. 7 city inspection found them to be in compliance.
City building official Scott McKown showed photos of new or repaired bathroom and plumbing fixtures, new countertops and appliances, and other improvements in units once plagued by problems including mold, pests, faulty plumbing, leaks, sagging floors, soaked carpets, damaged sheetrock, pests, nonworking fire doors and nonworking smoke detectors.
All the doors in the three buildings have been replaced to meet fire code, according to McKown. The empty swimming pool has been filled in and sodded over.
“We can remember what the befores were,” Council Member Dan Kealey said, referring to photos taken in spring 2011 after some residents complained about living conditions to firefighters responding to a March kitchen fire at the complex. “These look great.”
The kind words ended there, as some council members berated Lindahl representatives over missed deadlines and all sought assurances that this time would be different.
“We’ve given these people every break under the sun, over and over and over again,” Council Member Mary Sherry said, adding that the Lindahl family hasn’t earned the city’s trust.
Lindahl Properties showed “disdain” for the city and for tenants it allowed to live in “horrible, horrible” conditions, Sherry said.
“It was a horrendous place to live for those who lived in those units, and something we couldn’t fathom in the city of Burnsville,” Kealey said.
He asked for a “come to Jesus” explanation why Lindahl missed repair deadlines.
The city issued a provisional rental license in December 2011 after inspectors found the property “grossly failed” to meet code requirements. The city gave a series of further deadlines, starting with a Jan. 15, 2012, deadline for fixing fire code violations that had been pending since August 2011.
When Lindahl Properties failed that test, the council revoked its rental license. Social-service agencies and Dakota County helped relocate residents, including many non-English-speaking immigrants.
A new team represented Lindahl before the council Aug. 21. Gone were family member Paul Lindahl and a previous attorney. A sister of Paul’s, Ann Lindahl, said she’d come from Florida to see the project through. She said her mother, Delores, is the general partner of Lindahl Properties, and the five Lindahl children are limited partners.
New attorney Bruce Malkerson said he’s a longtime family friend who was asked by the Lindahls’ financial advisor to represent them. Malkerson is the third attorney Lindahl Properties has had since the code violations were discovered, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.
Malkerson, who said he’s done business before the Burnsville council spanning 38 years, said the Lindahls hired a construction manager, Jim Martinson, six to eight weeks ago. Work the Lindahls had been doing “was not coordinated the way it should have been.”
Martinson said a fourth building would meet codes in four days and a fifth in seven. Work on the sixth and largest building will take six to seven weeks, he said.
Malkerson attributed the missed deadlines to “bad communications, bad other things,” noting that Lindahl Properties owns and manages 400 rental units in other cities.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had as unique a situation as this one,” said Malkerson, tracing his family friendship to the Lindahls to the days when Delores’ late husband owned Lindahl Oldsmobile in Richfield and his father also owned a dealership.
“Your reputation is on the line, sir,” Kautz told Malkerson. “Your reputation is on the line in the city of Burnsville and in Scott County, where I know you still do a lot of work.”
Malkerson said the Lindahl family has the money to see the project through.
“I believe you should believe things have changed dramatically out there” and will improve further, Malkerson told the council.
“This project, when completed, is 10-plus million dollars,” he said.
Ann Lindahl repeatedly answered “yes” to questions about whether she would see the project through.
The terms of the provisional licenses provided for one building license to be issued Aug. 21. When a fourth building passes inspection, two more licenses will be issued. When the final two buildings pass inspection, the remaining three licenses will be granted.
Kealey suggested the staggered schedule. “It keeps a lot more skin in the game for them,” he said.
The council added a condition that a Lindahl representative appear at each regular council meeting through the end of the year to give construction updates.
“This is serious,” Kautz said. “Our citizens are watching. The people whose lives have been disrupted are watching.”
Sherry cast the lone vote against provisional licenses, saying the city shouldn’t issue anything until all buildings pass inspection.
“I’m sorry that you’ve come in with this half-baked proposal,” she told the Lindahl team. “It’s half done. Finish it!”
Provisional licensure will make Burnsville look “wishy-washy” to a metropolitan region that has seen widespread media coverage of Country Village, she said.
“I think the reputation of the apartments in Burnsville is fragile enough,” Sherry said. “I do not want to take any kind of risk – any risk – that it be further damaged.”
The city reported last December that Country Village had by then consumed nearly 760 hours of staff time. The case prompted the council to require inspections of all rental units in Burnsville every three years.
The provisional licenses would expire Dec. 31. Country Village and all rental properties in Burnsville must apply annually for rental licenses.