Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #12
By Bruce Hoppe
On July 27, the St. Paul Planning Commission narrowly defeated (on a 9-7 vote) a motion to send back to committee the city’s Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan for redeveloping Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant. This clearly shows that even within the Planning Commission there was a sense that it is time to stop the Ford plan and rethink the development. [The debate was actually about whether it was a good idea to delay the eventual unanimous vote by two weeks in order to further flesh out the amendment to *increase* density. Some people thought it would be better to delay, other thought that the Commission had discussed the issue at length already and there was no need to delay. Particularly considering that there was unanimous support for the plan at the committee level and eventually at the Commission, which was very well informed about the specifics of the issue thanks to the hours of testimony and hundreds of letters.]
The draft master plan was eventually recommended by the Planning Commission unanimously [See that is what actually happened] but that does not mark the end of the efforts of Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul. [This part reminds me of one of those villain speeches in a cheezy action film. shaking fist “You may have won this time, Mothman, but you haven't seen the last of me! I’ll be back! Just you wait! I'll be back. You'll see!" cue maniacal laughter] On the contrary, it marks the beginning of a redoubling of our efforts [redouble our efforts!] to prevent this project in its current form from being adopted over the objections of thousands of St. Paul residents.
Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul began as a grassroots group consisting primarily of a handful of neighbors who live near the Ford site in Highland Park. [Read: Mt. Curve Avenue.] Today we are growing beyond Ward 3 as others throughout the city, and even neighbors from Minneapolis, [Read: Wayzata, Edina, North Oaks, and Mendota Heights] begin to understand the onerous nature of this development proposal.
We are pro-development. We are in favor of wise development, adapted to local needs, that will benefit the neighborhood, residents, workers and visitors, as well as the broader Twin Cities metropolitan area, for current and future generations. We welcome more transit options, a range of housing options and costs, and expanded tax base, better traffic management and a strong investment in new recreational and green space options for the community.
Neighbors and visitors value the active, neighbor-friendly atmosphere of our community [just what is a “neighbor-friendly atmosphere”? Maybe less CO2 would be a start], while still being in reach of two downtowns. Any proposed development should be a harmonious extension of the current neighborhood, not at the cost of losing its identity. [The notion that there is a fixed “identity” for Highland is really the issue here. Who is included in this identity? Who is not?] The current plan proposes a radical increase in population density that will further burden infrastructure [like what? We talking sewers here?] and public services. [I wish for specifics instead of dog whistling.]
We oppose traffic congestion. [OK the specifics are here. Also, spoiler, this is the only thing.] With up to 10,000 more residents, employees and visitors in the property, there will be thousands of additional vehicles and tens of thousands of additional car trips on neighborhood streets each day. This area is already struggling with traffic congestion [is it?], and this plan will greatly increase vehicle traffic and congestion, both locally and well beyond the Ford site. [Please read the actual traffic study, which was done by actual professionals, and presents something of a worst-case scenario for what congestion might look like in 20 years. And it's not very bad. In fact not much changes.]
We support more green space. Parks and open space for recreation is a crucial component of any development plan for an urban area, and is particularly needed in this part of the city. [Is it?] This plan’s green space allocation is wholly inadequate, providing insufficient recreational outlets for the affected neighborhoods and for the redeveloped Ford site. [Is it? The proposed 9% open space is the maximum that the city can demand from a developer.] The city’s master plan reduces green space by not reestablishing the Little League fields ore replacing them with other recreational space. [These fields are on private land owned by the Ford and might go on land owned by the railroad but who is to say?]
We are concerned about property values. [This is the worst part of the editorial for sure. Also this is the most truthful thing here.] The negative impact of increased traffic congestion, a shortage of green space and over-burdened infrastructure will likely reduce home values. [Actually, property values will increase. I'd bet your house on it.] We can and must do better with this once-in-a-generation development opportunity.
This project does not just affect those living in Ward 3. It affects every single ward in St. Paul. [This is true! But in a good way.] Every dollar that has been spent on this project has taken money away from somewhere else in St. Paul. Every dollar of tax-increment financing used for this project will take money away from somewhere else in St. Paul. [No wait, this is the worst part of the editorial. Because it’s precisely the opposite of the truth. ACTUAL FACT: the "less density" plan would require much more TIF money and/or subsidies from the rest of the city.] Every opportunity that is being focused on 136 acres in Highland Park is an opportunity being taken away from some other St. Paul neighborhood. [So it turns out that “opportunity” is not a zero-sum game. In fact, the opposite is true. We all do better when we all do better, as Wellstone liked to say. If a poor kid on the East Side gets an opportunity to lead a healthy life in a walkable city, it does not take away an opportunity for a retiree in Highland to lead a healthy life in a walkable city, for example. Just the opposite is true.]
We tried to stop the Planning Commission’s vote on the Ford zoning and Public realm Master Plan because of serious problems with how the data was presented. We identified serious errors in showing the depth of opposition to this project. [But her emails!]
The Planning Commission vote may be advisory, but it represents another step in a process that has been broken, flawed and predetermined by many in St. Paul city government. Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul is determined to prevent this project in its current form from undermining the potential of the Ford plant site to create opportunities for all St. Paul residents. We hope you will join us in stopping the Ford plan and rethinking development. [IMO this editorial is remarkably free of specific actual suggestions. Other than “there will be traffic” and “more parks somehow”, there’s nothing here at all. Just some scary words.]
Bruce Hoppe is a resident of Highland Park and a member of Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul.