Calls for Ford site plan to be reformed continue to be ignored
August 10, 2017 at 12:38 am
The redevelopment of the Ford site in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a cherished legacy for the community. We need a plan for the site that builds on the neighborhood’s strengths, improves the beauty and long-term vitality of the community and is supported resoundingly by the public.
Unfortunately, the city’s current plan does none of this. It places nearly 10,000 people on the site, resulting in tens of thousands more cars, trucks and bus trips on already-crowded neighborhood roads. It features densely placed and massive buildings up to 10 stories high, in form and character grossly at odds with the existing neighborhood. It provides minimal greenspace and recreational area. To help promote the plan, the city is contemplating massive taxpayer-subsidized tax breaks for developers.
Opposition to the city’s plan for the Ford site is strong, deep and widespread. And it’s growing. And it’s not going away.
More than 1,600 signatures have been collected on a petition opposing the plan and calling for substantial changes. The city’s own tally of public comments before the recent planning commission vote showed that the plan has a dismal 34 percent approval rating. To date, however, the city has downplayed and ignored citizens’ concerns.
Although a narrowly rejected motion by members of the planning commission to return the plan to committee gave a brief sense that commissioners might be heeding citizen calls to reconsider, business-as-usual dismissiveness was restored with the subsequent unanimous vote to approve the plan. One of the commissioners was quoted as saying:
“I’m looking at substantive comments … The tally of how many people were against and for, that doesn’t concern me.”
The disregard for public opinion casts an unfavorable light on the city and calls into question both its regard for democracy and the integrity of its decision-making processes. And it bodes a troubled future for the site.
Sooner or later, the city will need to accommodate the very reasonable requests of the neighbors and community members whose lives will be most impacted by what transpires at the Ford site. They believe that the lifelong investment they have made in their community should be protected. They want to see the neighborhood enhanced, not degraded.
Public officials’ apparent disregard for public opinion precipitated the need for the formation of the grassroots community-based Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul. With it seeming clear that the concerns of thousands of residents would otherwise continue to be ignored, the group intends to continue to voice community concerns and intends to work with city officials to find an acceptable path forward.
Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul is 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 metro, for current and future generations.
We welcome more transit options, a range of housing options — including affordable housing — an expanded tax base, better traffic management and prioritizing of a strong investment in recreational and greenspace options for the community.
Neighbors and visitors value the active, neighbor-friendly atmosphere and community feel of our community, while still within reach of both downtowns. Any redevelopment should create a harmonious extension of the current neighborhood, ensuring that it does not lose its identity.
Those of us opposing the city’s current plan love St. Paul. We love the diversity of our community and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods. We want the Ford site development to strengthen the vitality of our neighborhoods — not weaken and diminish them. We want future generations to be able to enjoy the wonderful community that our children and previous generations of children have enjoyed.
For these reasons, Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul will persist in calling for rejection of the city’s current plan, and in working to ensure that future development results in a beneficial and harmonious expansion of the community.
Charles Hathaway is a spokesman for Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul.