• 24Jul

    Section 2 (of 3) of the comprehensive plan is now available. I spent a good portion of the weekend reading it. It appears outstanding. Section 3 is still a little rough. This is the first full update to the plan the guides community development since the mid to late 1970s. This plan appears to significantly improve the City of Rochester’s focus on the responsible use of financial resources.

    Comprehensive Plan Section 2

    I hope that section 3 will be coming shortly. It is imperative that the council adopt a strong plan, and stick to it.

    Expect that I will organize many community listening sections to discuss this topic.



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  • 17Sep

    This is hands down the most important planning activity for the future of Rochester. The consultants leading the project described this as the best and most thorough planning effort they had ever been involved with. They expect that this will be an award winning project. Here is the update we received.

    P2S Update Document

    In general we are studying 3 scenarios:

    1. Continued suburban sprawl
    2. Significant infill along major corridors and nodes
    3. Major high density nodes south of downtown & near IBM.

    What is different about this study is that we are seriously looking at the consequences of our decision. Today a few council members simultaneously can’t fund the costs associated with sprawl and deny sprawl is a problem. In considering these scenarios we will also consider.

    1. Our ability to deliver services including transit
    2. Cost of land development in different areas
    3. Financial impacts on the budget, especially public infrastructure
    4. Impacts on energy and environment.

    My hope is that when present with the likely data, 4 council members will vote to end the sprawl.

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  • 25Nov

    There has been an effort to sweep this report under the rug. I have no intention of letting that happen.

    If you have never heard of the Planning Administrative Services Committee (PASC), here is a crash course on who they are, what they do, and why they are the biggest contributor to the current disfunction in the Planning Department. Read more…

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  • 25Aug

    I have written much about issues in Olmsted County Planning. The recommendations in the Stantec report are pretty spot in and similar to what I have been advocating for I hope that county staff will act on these recommendations.

    My comments on this:

    My fear is the same people that have ignored community planning issues for years will continue to do so. We especially need the county board, county admin, and city admin to actively get behind addressing the recommendations. The council has been actively funding long term planning for the last few years.

    In the shorter term:

    1. I have been advocating for a new comprehensive plan for more than 10 years. I was a driver in getting the new plan initiated, I am not happy with the delays. I want in implemented and not watered down this year.
    2. I support immediately initiating work to update land use and zoning concurrent to the comprehensive plan work. I asked for this last year, and the majority of the council & staff did not agree with me so not progress has been made.
    3. Additional staff as well as a pay scale to attract and retain talent is needed immediately, I expect significant improvements in county staffing in 2017. This along with the new administration position should help with communications. I would like to see a staff member with urban design experience and training to be hired immediately to address the games being played by some developers on incentive & restricted developments. A full fee structure to support needed skills can be developed in the next 6 months.

    In the mid term:

    1. First we could actually give the already existing neighborhood plans some more teeth while augmenting the plans with DMC guidelines. Additional plans should be developed for all core neighborhoods, preserving the historic residential cores. In addition similar planning should be done for future transit node locations and park & ride sites.
    2. We should start adding long term planning staff as early as January 2017, how do we pay for it? Just look at how much we are spending on consultants to get us through our current messes. Prevention is always cheaper than cure.
    3. The neighborhoods have taken the brunt of the failure to plan and engage the community. Starting with the core neighborhoods, they should have dedicated staff discussing issues and bring concerns early into the development process
    4. I’m not sure if we need to break up the city / county model. I would be fine with that, but honestly the county doesn’t do anything that is very complex outside to the Rochester urban service area. For me the key is that the city needs a mechanism to insure we have the staff to meet community planning needs. We have not during my time in public office. This is largely because of county staffing decisions and a pay scale that bleeds talent.

    From the Stantec Report:

    6.0 RECOMMENDATIONS Read more…


  • 24Aug

    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.


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  • 30May

    First of all I have to give credit to outstanding members of the Planning & Zoning Commission and the city attorney’s office for finding and addressing this failure. However this is yet another failure. This is the latest error in a disastrous planning process that leaves developers and neighborhoods exposed, delivers vast inconsistencies, and culminated in the city council choosing to break the law in order to approve the Oliver development project.

    At Wednesday’s CPZC meeting, I was working off of a hard copy version of the LDM that is supplied to my office by the Planning Department.  The front cover of my version states “Updated February 5, 2014.”  I also have access to an electronic version of the LDM that is also supplied to my office by the Planning Department.  The electronic version states it is valid as of 1/22/14.  Both the hard copy and the electronic version of 62.901 reflect the following language:

    62.901 Purposes: The further specific purposes and conditions supporting the establishment

    of a special district are:

    A: The existence of a special and substantial public interest in protecting the existing

    or proposed character of an area or unique geological, ecological, archeological or

    social characteristics of an area; or

    B: The existence of a special and substantial public interest in protecting areas

    surrounding an individual building, group of buildings or man-made features and

    their environs; and

    C: The need to establish modifications to or to supplement existing zoning regulations

    to accomplish a special public purpose that is supported by the goals and policies

    of the Comprehensive Plan and that support pedestrian, bicycle, and transit

    friendly design.

    In reliance upon these resources, I responded to your question by opining that one must satisfy A or B and C in order to obtain approval of a Special District application.  The Commission concluded the applicant failed to meet this burden and, as a result, recommended denial of the Special District application.

    After receiving your message and the Planning Department’s different version of this ordinance, I checked with the City Clerk to see how the Council ordinance adopting 62.901 actually reads.  Attached you will find the relevant pages of Ordinance No. 2785 as adopted on December 19, 1991.  If you turn to the second page of the attachment, you will find 62.901 as originally adopted by the Council.  In comparing the original version of 62.901 with the version that was supplied to me by the Planning Department, you will find a critical discrepancy.  The word “and” that appears after the semi-colon in (B) is in error.  That word should be “or.

    I checked my computer system to see if 62.901 has been amended since the time of its original adoption.  The City Clerk also checked to see if this ordinance had been amended.  We could not find any subsequent amendment to 62.901.

    Bottom line:  The staff report’s version of 62.901 presented at Wednesday’s CPZC meeting was accurate.  My opinion in response to your question was inaccurate as it was based on an inaccurate hard copy version and electronic version of 62.901 provided to us by the Planning Department.

    Where do we go from here?

    As I was present for the discussion of this matter, I realize the importance of “and” and “or” in the Commission’s discussion and recommendation concerning the Special District application.  The Commission meets again on June 10 and the Special District matter will come before the Council on June 15.  I would suggest that this issue appear on the June 10 CPZC agenda and that the Commission decide whether to ask the Council to remand the matter back to the Commission so that the Commission can revisit its recommendation in light of the clarification as to the correct wording of 62.901.  If the Commission were to make such a request and the Council were to grant such a request, the only issue that would come back to the Commission would be its recommendation.  There would not be another public hearing.  The hearing has already occurred.  Instead, only the recommendation that resulted from the public hearing would be remanded to the Commission.

    If this matter is remanded to the Commission, the Planning Department will need to extend the 60-day shot clock to 120 days.

    I did check the online version of the LDM available through the City’s website.  The online version of the LDM’s version of 62.901 is the same as my hard copy and electronic version.  In other words, in the LDM online version the word “and” appears where the word “or” should appear.

    Finally, I would ask the Planning Department to provide this office with an updated hard copy and electronic copy of the LDM with a corrected version of 62.901.  The Planning Department may also want to update the online version of the LDM with a corrected version of 62.901.

    Read more…

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  • 26Feb

    Thank you to the Rochester Planning & Zoning Commission for unanimously standing up to the illegal variances.

    Planning Commission Resolution

    Here is how the council knowingly and deliberately violated our Rochester Code of Ordinances Section 60.417. In order to receive a variance, a number of conditions must be met. Many criteria were suspect, but one was a clear and direct violation of that legal criteria.

    Subdivision 1. The approval authority may grant a variance to the provisions of this ordinance if it finds that:

    1. F.    The terms of the variance are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

    This explicitly means that the council may NOT approve a variance if the terms of the variance fail to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

    The council ruled that 2 variances that specifically allowed to high density were consistent for the plan requirement of low density.

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  • 09Aug

    Come learn about how to protect and invest in a neighborhood for the long run.  Have a great idea?  Come share it.  Have a concern? Come share it.

    The Slatterly Park Vision Plan Presentation has been set for Tuesday September 18, 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Hawthorne Education Center Gymnasium, 700 4th Ave SE, as always you can view the Vision Plan and the timeline of events through the past 2 ½ years at www.slatterlypark.org under the vision plan tab.  The presentation will be set up to encourage people to get their questions answered. Everyone with a property address in the neighborhood will receive a notice from Planning and Zoning a couple weeks prior to the meeting. Please save the date, and if you have any questions before the presentation please contact me, and we’ll have someone from the Leadership Team answer your question.

    The Vision Plan is an opportunity for the Slatterly Park neighborhood to develop a vision for the future, through a comprehensive approach, that identifies our strengths and weaknesses to develop a plan that will serve as a guide for the future.  It is important to note that any part of the Vision plan that gets adopted or implemented still needs to go through proper channels of city government i.e. Planning & Zoning & City Council, and that some of the vision plan elements are long range plans.

    Below are the three primary topics we have heard concerns about:

    1. Modified Entrance into Slatterly Park from the south off of 11th Ave SE

    2. 6th Street Bridge over the Zumbro River, and the through connection across Third Ave SE to 6th Street SE

    3. The change of Land Use designation of a pocket of mixed residential single family homes/apartment complexes west of 11th Ave SE & Macken Funeral Home from Low Density to Medium Density.  (It is important to keep in mind that this is not a zoning change)

    Imagine a great place to call home • Get involved • Be a part of something great!

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  • 22Jun

    Vacation interrupted in favor of affordable housing…

    Is creating affordable housing really a priority or do we just want to talk about the problem for another year?

    Here is a comment I received:

    Michael, I’ll admit to being very disappointed with your view on the industrial site for affordable housing. Is this REALLY what we want? This seems like we are segregating these moderate income families and their kids from other residential areas. Their access to parks and trails will be across impossibly busy streets, surrounded by an industrial setting that is bound to cause these homes to never be able to escape the depressed market value such a neighborhood will have.

    Maybe we need a mixed income zoning requirement that would require 15% of these houses to be high market value, so there is equal opportunity for the kind of limited resources this area will provide for residents.

    It seems to me so very much not mixed income housing–help me understand why this is the direction you think we should be going

    Great question Helen, I will try to explain why I support this site.

    First, or decision to approve a site is dependent on our land development rules. The one issue that has come into play general compatibility. A compelling case against this was made by Nick Campion. I like to think I made a compelling case for it. There is some level of subjectivity, so I am not surprising that the Planning was split as was the council. I don’t think any preposterous leaps like when we declared that 50 units per acre was low density residential in Kutzky Park. Any time you find me and Randy Staver on the same side of a split vote, you know things are getting wild…

    That is the legalese, now to the good stuff…

    Is this REALLY what we want? No. I personally would want all affordable housing to be mixed income transit, connected, walkable to most amenities, have access to extensive green space, and have certainty of future compatible neighbors. Perhaps this in not what we want, it is what we need.

    The site is located in an industrial area, but that is misleading. The site is surrounded by uses that are largely technology, transportation, and retail. Industrial land sounds like there could be a superfund site there. Really there are some technology companies there. The site has a small amount of additional residential in the area. My biggest concern would be late night noise issues which we can mostly address through conditions of approval.

    While there are no immediately adjacent parks, there is immediate access to the most heavily used state trail in the state of Minnesota. This safely leads to the nearly 400 acre Cascade Lake Park. I know this route well as I bike it 50 times a year. In addition the proposed development would house more than 160 households and offer some on site amenities.

    One of the most important considerations for affordable housing is good access to jobs & services by walking, biking, and public transportation. This site has some reasonable access to retailers, grocers, and jobs. The transit is not currently great there, but we know this is changing fast. Our transportation and comprehensive plans call for the area where this project is proposed to be mixed use and dense. Further, it is near the intersection of 2 future primary transit routes. Access to transit is actually one of the greatest strengths of this site.

    Right now in Rochester we need thousands of affordable housing units. Since designating this issue as a priority earlier this year the city council has taken no actions to address our enormous shortage. No one policy or development can bring the market into balance, but this, like the inclusionary housing ordinance, can be part of a solution. This project is essentially asking for nothing in public subsidy, at the same time luxury housing in downtown Rochester is getting millions in subsidies (and yes, while mostly voting against these I have supported some offering public improvements).

    Is building housing in an industrial area crazy? Maybe, but we just did it successfully two times. Concerns were raised about the Ashland Village and Flats on First proposals. These projects now provide housing to more than 100 households and I suspect have a substantial waiting list. Of course “affordable” is not the same to all people but we are creating units that are more affordable to more people than we would otherwise have.

    Here is the big picture. We have a site that has been vacant for the 18 years I have lived in Rochester. We need thousands of units of affordable housing. The growth of low wage hospitality, service and retail jobs in the community will only make the situation worse (increasing the minimum will help). We have limited tools to address the problem. Here we have a proposal on a less than perfect, but acceptable site. It would create high quality, safe, healthy, affordable housing for more than 160 households. It would grow the tax base at almost no incremental taxpayer expense. Its hard to fill our 8,000 open jobs without providing people a place they can afford to live.

    Great question Helen, hope the answer articulated my reasoning.

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  • 13Oct

    Answers coming soon.

    Affordable Housing:
    Considering the massive crisis that we face in the availability of affordable housing for households with income below $55,000 per year, what do you think is the responsibility of City government to help create affordable housing and what specific measures do you think the City could take now to facilitate the development of affordable housing?

    We recognize that you are running for City Council, not the School Board. However, given the importance of our children’s education, we are asking this question:
    What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Rochester related to the education of our youth, and what, in your role as a City Council member, are the factors you will consider to address this?

    Living Wage:
    Do you support tying a Living Wage to any business seeking public funding from the city?

    Historic Preservation:
    What do you think would be the appropriate response by the city council regarding the current situation with the Kutzky House?

    Social Services:
    How are you going to get input from the working poor of Rochester on an ongoing basis? Will you include housing, transportation and living wages in your conversations?

    “The workforce we want is attracted by sustainability. Our Mayor has made a proclamation that Rochester will be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2031. And the one formal city initiative on energy sustainability is our Climate Smart Municipalities partnership with German cities. What are three ways you would lead the city council to capitalize on our German partnership to create a more attractive and sustainable city?”

    Plans for the DMC and the City Comprehensive plan call for a significant shift away from people driving alone into Rochester for work and other trips. Much of the public investment in the DMC revolves around improvements to public transit, especially buses. Biking and pedestrian route upgrades are also included, and demand for them is growing. However, we’ve also seen a recent uptick in crashes involving people walking or biking. Recent figures show that 2016 is on par to be the deadliest year for pedestrians in Minnesota as a whole, and this is especially true in Rochester. Two of the seven bicycle related deaths were in Rochester. What are your priorities on making it easier for people to drive less so we can meet these goals and to do so safely?

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