Stantec’s bleak but honest report on the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department

This report is jaw dropping. I agree with it nearly 100%, but wow…

This is not an indictment on the staff at planning, I continue to believe that most of them are outstanding. This is an issue with leadership, principally at the board and administration levels. The county is at fault for failing to meet community needs, the city is at fault for not realizing how bad things have gotten.

We now have outdated plans, a severely understaffed department, missing many key skill sets, and a $1.4 billion liability in street maintenance with no real plan to address it. I support smart growth, I despise dumb growth. We have principally been doing dumb growth. While our population doubled our footprint increased 5 fold. This is doing less with more infrastructure.

Years of advocacy by myself and others has finally resulted in updating many of these plans, but great harm has been done and continues to be done. Staff can’t even answer the simple question I pose frequently: will this development pay for itself over time. Most the time the answer has be “no.” Destination Medical Center Staff have been a BIG help in assisting these shortcomings.

Again, this is not an indictment on planning staff, but here is the brutal truth.

4.0 SUMMARY OF FINDINGS, KEY UNMET NEEDS

This section starts with the most obvious and basic findings and proceed to a more detailed description of
issues and unmet needs.

  • The County and City have changed substantially since the Planning Department was established through the joint agency agreement in the 1970’s.
  • The percentage of County growth and development that occurs within the City is projected to continue to increase over the next 20 years.
  • The final decision body on Planning Department budget and staffing is the Olmsted County Board.
  • The County and City continue to operate under a completely outdated Comprehensive Plan. The process to update and adopt a new Comprehensive Plan has taken longer than expected though opinions vary regarding the reasons for this delay.
  • The Land Development Code was written in the 1970s and is also widely recognized as being complicated, outdated, and unsuitable for regulating high density urban developments.
  • The nature, rate and magnitude of change (percentage increase) facing the City are without precedent in Minnesota. The style and scale of the projected development demands completely different planning strategies, policies, regulatory tools, procedures, and communication and community engagement capabilities.
  • Virtually every person interviewed identified transportation and transit (broadly defined) as the biggest challenges that are facing the City. There are no transportation, transit, multi-modal improvements, or parking solutions that will be effective unless they are completely integrated with supportive land use planning.
  • The Planning Department will continue to lose talent, experience and institutional memory as senior members retire. Both retention and recruitment of talent will be challenging for the ROPD as it is for other departments and community organizations in the Rochester. There is broad consensus that the ROPD has barely the capacity it needs to keep up with day to day activities. The Department does not have enough capacity to do long range planning, engage with and prepare neighborhoods in advance of development, or simply handle the volume of communication that the City needs in order to understand and accept so much change.
  • The outdated Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, the County and City department structure, the interrelated roles with other departments, the interests and priorities of Mayo, the DMC and other key stakeholders combine to create a cumbersome decision making process. Because neighborhoods have not been engaged before major developments were proposed the time to process applications and complete the entitlement process has simply taken too long. This has led to dissatisfaction on all sides. This can’t continue if the DMC Vision is going to come to fruition.
  • The City’s downtown will be the focus of a significant percentage of the total growth and development, but it won’t all fit downtown and there will always be people who will not choose to live there. This makes the Transit – Supportive Mixed Use Nodes that are being planned outside the downtown so important. Each of these areas will require special area studies and analysis of ways to connect surrounding areas to these nodes to extend the benefits of transit service as broadly as possible. Transit supportive development, TOD, urban design, redevelopment and revitalization have not been high priorities for the City in the past, but they definitely will be in the future. There will also be a continued demand for greenfield development with the opportunity to offer a greater diversity of housing choices and benefit from the many emerging innovations in healthy living, sustainability and energy efficiency.
  • The ROPD is not directly charged with the issue of housing affordability, but there is a lot of planning work necessary to accomplish a successful housing program and ensure community acceptance and support.
  • The level of organization in City neighborhoods varies and this results in different levels of communication, engagement and advocacy. Even with the most organized neighborhoods there is a need for education and a clarification of roles and responsibilities and consistency regarding the timing of neighborhood involvement. The best and most constructive and mutually beneficial time for neighborhood involvement is in the plan development stage and when design standards are being developed. When this prior involvement has not occurred before actual development projects are proposed the overwhelming majority of neighborhoods will respond negatively.

One comment

  1. Michael,
    Please use a dark ink when posting so it can be read easily.

    Is the above text direct quotes from the report or your summary of the major points? I am assuming that it is the actual report.

    Thanks.

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