Decision Counterpoint: Technology Drive

I have great respect for CM Nick Campion and the work he does. I have been on the council long enough to work with good and bad elected officials. He is certainly one of the best I have worked with. Here is my counter point to his outstanding article. I do not believe Nick is against affordable housing.

I do believe if we set a level of perfection and get 0 affordable housing units as a result, there is no moral victory. This project earned the strong support of Greater Minnesota Housing which is a state leader in quality affordable housing and related policies.

Nick wrote:

I had strong reservations about the location for this project. I voted against the TIF financing. I don’t want to see this spun a “Councilman Campion is against affordable housing” so I want to make sure you understand my decision.

  1. This is zoned M-2 and that zoning would allow heavy, disruptive uses (think 24-hour trucking, large refrigeration operations, meat processing, etc) to go in right next door. There would be no buffer requirements allowing it to be right up to the property line.

  2. Industrial operations (like Benchmark, etc) are already operating in the area with heavy trucking traffic.

  3. The nearest park facility requires crossing West Circle Dr. or Valleyhigh Dr. and traveling nearly 30 minutes to use safe crossings.

  4. Public infrastructure is limited. The area lacks connected sidewalks and has limited access to transit. This is a double whammy. The developer wants to put the property tax payments back into financing the project, so there is less available for the City to make public improvements.

  5. Decisions set the direction for our City. We need to be clear that we want affordable housing, but we want that housing to be places people want to live. Places that are safe. Places that feel like neighborhoods. An industrial park is below the acceptable threshold for our community. An approval would have welcomed more to push the line further.

Here is my counter point:

This is superior to the apartments I lived in when I moved to Rochester. There is a day care right in this area. How many parents would pay a premium to have their kids somewhere unsafe? The area is mixed use with transit access. The project is mixed income.

  1. Agree, but: The area is developed and those types of uses are unlikely or unable to come in. We can address any concerns as we are updating zoning and the comp plan. 2 recent, very successful housing projects are similarly close to industrial, 1st Ave Flats (Kemps) and Ashland Village (off 19th).
  2. Agree, but: Some of the hottest real estate in Rochester is in places with trucking traffic. This is not dissimilar from being near a Kwik Trip. It is important to remember that 60% of this housing is close to market rate so if the area is undesirable the project fails.
  3. Disagree: The closest park will be a playground on site. The most accessible park facility is the Douglas Trail which is adjacent to the site. From there it is less than 10 minute bike ride along a trail with only 1 signalized crossing to a massive 400 acre regional park or the Cascade Meadows Environmental Learning Center.
  4. Disagree: I checked on this, there are already many sidewalks in the area and we have pedestrian facility agreements with other properties needed for connectivity. This means ,that at our direction, existing property owners have agreed to put in sidewalks at their cost. Additionally there is bus service nearby and our transit plan shows this increasing substantially in the area. The site is easily walk-able to thousands of jobs, restaurants, day cares, groceries, and Costco.
  5. Disagree: Industrial Park is being used as a buzzword to imply some sort of environmental concern. There really is not much to be concerned about. To build 10,000+ affordable units will require many locations to be used. Further this is not a project that concentrates people in the 50 & 60% AMI categories into an undesirable location, rather the project relies on 60% of the units being rented by people that can go just about anywhere.

Frequently our decisions on developments are made in a quasi-judicial nature, meaning we must hold the development against a set of standards and make a decision irrespective of our opinions. TIF is not like that, we can make decisions on our opinions. As such his opinion is as valid as mine.

I am disappointed we lost out on 65 affordable housing units (1/4 of them at the 50% AMI level). I am not upset with Nick, he was consistent from the start.

I am upset with Mark Hickey & Ed Hruska. These 2 council member recently voted to approve $648k in TIF for the Miracle Mile project because a sink hole, that Javon Bea was warned about, required changes that would have increased the total project costs by 2%. Among other objections, this allocation certainly failed the “but for” test. That means that the project would not have been complete “but for the TIF.” These same two individuals didn’t see fit to put a similar amount of money into a mixed income project. Also, Annalissa Johnson did support the TIF for Javon based on staff advice. I suspect she would like to recast that vote.

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