As always I am answering the questions for a private organization in a public way so everyone can see them. I have also requested a link to other candidate responses AND a link to the video recording of the candidate forum I participated in. I think some of the answers given in that forum were very enlightening and wish to share them.
Do you believe there is a need for a development coordinator in the city of Rochester, one that would provide guidance through the development process and be the point contact for developers?
No, I think that is an expensive work around that fails to address the underlying issue of an out of date Comprehensive Plan, Land-use plan, Zoning Ordinance, Neighborhood Detail Plans, and sufficient planning staff to update, maintain, and evaluate these plans. I would only support this type of position if it were entirely funded by developers using the services.
Do you believe that neighborhoods have a role in reviewing development projects?
Yes, if any design modifications, variances, incentives, zone changes, or other forms of assistance are used; the public should be involved in the approval process. Neighborhoods deserve designs that elevate existing neighborhoods. Sometimes they are getting them sometimes they are not. Good design involves neighbors and creates great places.
What do you see as city council’s role in reviewing developments? City staff?
The city council needs to ensure that the planning department is properly staffed to maintain community-planning documents. It currently is not. The council should carefully review proposals to ensure that the goals of the community are achieved in projects seeking to vary from approved plans guidance. Individual council members should strive to educate and bring divergent parties together prior to public hearings.
City staff (and county planning staff) should bring with them expertise in urban design best practices, provide current world-class plans & codes, and a clear process that involves and is respected by key stakeholders.
What do you see as the two to three biggest challenges facing Rochester? How would you address these issues as a city council member?
Transportation – current transportation planning focusing on downtown mobility, non-motorized transport, public transportation, and parking are a great start. The key now will be to finish these plans and execute on them; putting the greater community good before specific special interests.
Workforce – the community must successfully educate, attract, retain and house the workforce of the future. For decades Rochester has had negative net-domestic migration, and yet the same voices want to keep making the same self serving decisions. We need stronger partnerships with schools, flexible education options, better transportation options to empower students, and affordable world-class broadband to develop and recruit the workforce we need.
Sustainability – We have built a city that is approaching the geographic size of Minneapolis with less than 1/3 of the population. This inefficient design will drive massive tax increases, environmental issues, and weaken quality of life amenities if not addressed. The city should no longer accept public infrastructure unless it can be shown that tax capacity can cover city services and long-term maintenance. We need a renewed & expanded commitment to clean energy.
Is there anything wrong with the current city council? If so, what is it and how would you fix it?
There are a number of issues and no one person can fix them unilaterally.
First, I devote 50 hours a week to a position that is considered part time. The lack of real compensation leads to a council that is almost entirely made up of people that are either retired or independently of sufficient means to fund a political hobby. While these may all be good people they are not reflective of the needs and experiences of our community. Some members will come to meetings unprepared to speak knowledgeably on a topic and/or do little continuing education / knowledge building on their own.
Second, the city council suffers from a “tyranny of the majority” where certain special interests have learned to forget about every stakeholder except for 4 votes on the city council. It doesn’t matter which four votes, but if they are comfortable that four council members will support a given position all motivation to achieve consensus is lost. This builds resentment of the community process.
Third, the council suffers from “decision paralysis” where many issues are continually kicked down the road. Heritage preservation is the perfect example; this has gone on for years because the council has been unwilling to make a decision. Food trucks, Uber, and Sunday Taproom sales are other examples of how as a body we fumble through what is just accepted in so many other places.
Forth, we have been too unwilling to throw out bad plans. The comprehensive plan from the 1970s is a perfect example. It was bad in 1980 and it is bad today. It was only when DMC lit a fire under us that I had enough support for a complete redo of the plan. Land use & zoning are next up. Had I not been overruled by other council members this would already be underway.
And how would I solve this? I focus on being a part of the solution and bringing transparency to the process. In 8 years I have greatly added to Ethics oversight, created more and better ways to hear meetings, come prepared, knowledgable, researched and well educated. I provide endless documents that the public would have otherwise never have seen to spur on discussion. I have served as the Chair of the NLC Community & Economic Development Board and ULI Healthy Corridors National Task Force.
How would you speed up the approval and permitting process within the city of Rochester?
I want complete digitization of the entire development process. All applications, signatures, documents, changes, plans, and requirements should be online and updated in real time. Whatever is holding up an approval should be easily found and traced. Debates about who said what would be totally eliminated.
Zoning should be entirely scrapped and replaced with form-based zoning and / or neighborhood level plans. Parking minimums should be replaced with parking maximums and connectivity requirements.
Lastly part of the development issues stem from poor plan submittals by developers. This is not always the case but we have some frequent violators. Often the developers are looking for the city to fund their own engineering analysis. This is similarly not OK. In the event where staff is spending significant time to address or consult on poor submittals, there should be a resubmittal fee that fully covers staff time.