• 22Aug

    As we discuss our massive $1.4 Billion unfunded street maintenance liability here is an example of how we can do better with what we have. The city invested heavily in making this former state highway into a great place. We just approved our first redevelopment and more are on there way. These higher land uses will further increase our return on investment. We put about $1.5 million “extra” into this area to make it safer and more attractive.

    We are still dealing with issues like making sight lines better. The city took over maintenance of the landscaping July 1, and since then made some changes by Kwik Trip, as the public submits concerns, city staff will continue to check things out.

    I have also asked for before and after collision rates. We have had at least 1 serious collision in the district since the completion of the project. It appears sight lines were not an issue on that one, but rather inattentive driving.

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    Here the red represents added costs to make the district shine and the blue is growth in taxes beyond what would normally be expected.

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    This shows the net Return on Investment over time. It is highly positive and seem to be accelerating. Property values are much higher and redevelopment is happening.

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  • 11Aug

    Here is a map of the roadways in Rochester that are at a point that they will need major reconstruction.



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  • 10Aug

    Sprawl is really expensive as it turns out. We are close to the geographical size of Minneapolis with less than 1/3 of the population. Who do we expect is going to pay for all that infrastructure?

    After 8 years of prodding, staff finally reported on how far we are behind in maintaining our road infrastructure. While I am a passionate environmentalist (this is my favorite planet), sustainability is equally about financial responsibility.

    If we do nothing (which has been what the city has done for the last 8 years) we will lose our ability to fund public safety, transit, parks, library, arts, and everything else that the city does.

    Here is that report.

    What it says that is that we built roads that require 31.9 million annually to maintain. We currently pay $9 million annually, leaving a $22.9 million gap. Further we have built up maintenance needs of about $235 million. Using some basic finance to calculate our current unfunded liability over 50 years, I calculate an unfunded liability of about $1.4 Billion dollars.

    What does this mean? Over the next 50 years we have $1.4 Billion more in expenses than revenues to pay for it (in today’s dollars).

    If we were to immediately close the annual gap that would mean a 40% tax increase for all tax paying properties in Rochester. Ouch..

    NPV Streets Liability photo Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 1.47.58 PM_zpsig6riccl.png

    What do we have to do to fix this? Probably many things.

    1. Quit digging the hole bigger. Do not accept new roads as public infrastructure unless we are relatively certain they will generate more in tax revenues than costs. This is actually pretty easy, just look at Fox Hill Villas, 30 new singly family homes but the road is private. We have a few leaders in particular have kept digging the hole bigger.
    2. Start chipping away at the costs. While I don’t want a 40% tax increase we need to put more money into maintaining what we already have. I suggested a longer term plan of increasing road funding by a couple million a year over 10 years. That is still a big tax increase, but it is spread out over time and hopefully over more payers.
    3. Smart Growth. Do Projects like the uptown project that increases property values, density, and tax collections. There will be a future post on just how successful the Uptown project has been in terms of increasing values beyond what is happening elsewhere in the community. The means more revenue coming in to maintain that same quantity of road (even after figuring in the added costs that made that area so attractive).
    4. Stop unnecessary degradation. A top state expert on road maintenance explained to the city council on Monday how reducing the number of garbage haulers in the roads would reduce premature road expenses to the city by millions of dollars annually. A similar move in Bloomington is projected to save residents an addition $13 million over the next 5 years just on their bills. But do we have the courage to do it?
    5. Street Utilities. Nonprofits don’t pay property taxes and don’t help pay for roads. Further commercial properties pay excess taxes to help subsidize residential properties in Minnesota. A utility would allow us to pay for some or all of road maintenance with a fee on adjacent properties. This is far more fair & equitable, but requires state action. This option is supported by the League of Minnesota Cities & Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

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  • 26Jul

    Edit: I sent this to SEMAR and told them, “I don’t want your endorsement, I don’t want your money, please keep working for my opponent.”

    I have a great deal of respect for Real Estate Professionals in our community, but far less for Patrick Sexton’s political agenda and the leadership at SEMAR that seems to be enabling it. I don’t want to live in a community that is dominated by cronyism or special interests. I will continue to fight for great neighborhoods and fair public policies in Rochester.

    Here is my written non-response to the SEMAR Questionnaire.

    As such, rather than responding to the SEMAR questionnaire, I am instead inviting any REALTOR to send me your questions and I will publish your questions, and my answers here. I’ll start out:

    What would you do to meet the demand for affordable housing in Rochester?

    Here is something that I wrote in 2014, which remains pretty accurate today.

    10 ideas to address the affordable housing crisis in Rochester

    Insert your question here.

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  • 23Jul

    All across America inclusionary zoning is a growing and effective tool to address housing affordability. Here is a report from the National Housing Conference in May 2016.

    What makes Inclusionary Zoning Happen?

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  • 25Jun

    Edit: Per the request of some citizens the Traffic Report Can be found here.

    On Monday I will participate on a panel that will discuss the proposed Alatus Development in the Folwell Neighborhood. There is a great deal of fear about this project, which is to be expected with any project this large. I will be a little limited as to what I can say as I am in a quasi-judicial capacity with the project likely coming to the council.

    As a restricted development, any approval must meet the requirements in 62.708 of our land development manual. I will bold the sections that are likely of particular interest to neighbors as I have received questions. The first time that this comes to us will be as a Preliminary Development Plan as such take a look at Subdivision 2. Subdivision 3 is applicable to a Final Development Plan.

    On all of these criteria, staff will prepare a report making recommendations, the Planning & Zoning Commission will then review it, and finally the council will make a decision. This is the case for both the Preliminary & Final Plans.

    62.708 Criteria for Type III Developments: Subdivision 1. The Commission and Council shall approve a type III incentive development plan if it determines the plan satisfies all of the Preliminary Development Plan findings provided in subdivision 2 and all of the Final Development Plan findings provided in subdivision 3.
    Subd 2. The findings for the approval of a Preliminary Type III Development Plan are as follows:

    A. Capacity of Public Facilities: The existing or future planned utilities in the area are adequate to serve the proposed development.

    B. Geologic Hazards: The existence of areas of natural or geologic hazard, such as unstable slopes, sinkholes, floodplain, etc., have been identified and the development of these areas has been taken into account or will be addressed in the Phase II plans.

    C. Natural Features: For developments involving new construction, the arrangement of buildings, paved areas and open space has, to the extent practical, utilized the existing topography and existing desirable vegetation of the site.

    D. Residential Traffic Impact: When located in a residential area, the proposed development:

    (1) Will not cause traffic volumes to exceed planned capacities on local residential streets;

    (2) Will not generate frequent truck traffic on local residential streets; and

    (3) Will not create additional traffic during evening and nighttime hours on local residential streets.

    E. Traffic Generation Impact: : Anticipated traffic generated by the development will not cause the capacity of adjacent streets to be exceeded, and conceptual improvements to reduce the impact of access points on the traffic flow of adjacent streets have been identified where needed..

    F. Height Impacts: For developments involving new construction, the heights and placement of proposed structures are compatible with the surrounding development. Factors to consider include:

    (1) Will the structure block sunlight from reaching adjacent properties during a majority of the day for over four months out of the year; and;

    (2) Will siting of the structure substantially block vistas from the primary exposures of adjacent residential dwellings created due to differences in elevation.

    G. Setbacks: For developments involving new construction, proposed setbacks are related to building height and bulk in a manner consistent with that required for permitted uses in the underlying zoning district.

    H. Internal Site Design: For developments involving new construction, the preliminary site layout indicates adequate building separation and desirable orientation of the buildings to open spaces, street frontages or other focal points.

    I. Screening and Buffering: The conceptual screening and bufferyards proposed are adequate to protect the privacy of residents in the development or surrounding residential areas from the impact of interior traffic circulation and parking areas, utility areas such as refuse storage, noise or glare exceeding permissible standards, potential safety hazards, unwanted pedestrian/bicycle access, or to subdue differences in architecture and bulk between adjacent land uses.

    J. Ordinance Requirements: The proposed development includes adequate amounts of off-street parking and loading areas and, in the case of new construction, there is adequate landscaped area to meet ordinance requirements.

    K. General Compatibility: The relationship of the actual appearance, general density and overall site design of the proposed development should be compared to the established pattern of zoning, the character of the surrounding neighborhood and the existing land forms of the area to determine the general compatibility of the development with its surroundings.

    L. Non-Vehicular and Alternate Modes of Travel: The proposed development incorporates pedestrian oriented-space, provides direct and convenient pedestrian access to the building entrance(s) from public trails, public sidewalks, and on or off-site parking areas, incorporates appropriated pedestrian safety features, provides convenient pedestrian access for transit patrons, or, if appropriate, access for transit vehicles, and provides adequate bicycle access. Consideration shall also be given, to providing designated motorized scooter parking if appropriate to the context of the development (the use, location, type of individuals served).

    Subd. 3. The findings for the approval of a Final Type III Development Plan are as follows:
    A. Public Facility Design: The design of private and public utility facilities meet the requirements and specifications which the applicable utility has adopted.

    B. Geologic Hazard: Engineering means to deal with areas of geologic hazard have been incorporated into the development plan or such areas have been set aside from development.
    Page 258 September 1, 2011

    C. Access Effect: Ingress and egress points have been designed and located so as to:

    (1) Provide adequate separation from existing street intersections and adjacent private driveways so that traffic circulation problems in public right-of-ways are minimized; and

    (2) Not adversely impact adjacent residential properties with factors such as noise from accelerating or idling vehicles or the glare of headlights from vehicles entering or leaving the site.

    In addition, where the preliminary development plan identified potential problems in the operation of access points, plans for private improvements or evidence of planned public improvements which will alleviate the problems have been provided.

    D. Pedestrian Circulation: The plan includes elements to assure that pedestrians can move safely both within the site and across the site between properties and activities within the neighborhood area, and, where appropriate, accommodations for transit access are provided.

    E. Foundation and Site Plantings: A landscape plan for the site has been prepared which indicates the finished site will be consistent with the landscape character of the surrounding area.

    F. Site Status: Adequate measures have been taken to insure the future maintenance and ownership pattern of the project, including common areas, the completion of any platting activities, and the provision of adequate assurance to guarantee the installation of required public improvements, screening and landscaping.

    G. Screening and Bufferyards: The final screening and bufferyard design contains earth forms, structures and plant materials which are adequate to satisfy the needs identified in preliminary development plan for the project.

    H. Final Building Design: The final building design is consistent with the principles identified in preliminary development plan relative to Height Impact, Setbacks, and Internal Site Design.

    I. Internal Circulation Areas: Plans for off-street parking and loading areas and circulation aisles to serve these areas meet ordinance requirements in terms of design.

    J. Ordinance Requirements: The proposed development is consistent with the requirements of the underlying zoning district for similar uses in regards to signage and other appearance controls, and with general standards such as traffic visibility and emergency access.

    K. Non-Vehicular and Alternate Travel Modes: The proposed development incorporates pedestrian oriented-space, provides direct and convenient pedestrian access to the building entrance(s) from public trails, public sidewalks, and on or off-site parking areas, incorporates appropriated pedestrian safety features, provides convenient pedestrian access for transit patrons, or, if appropriate, access for transit vehicles, and provides adequate bicycle access. Consideration shall also be given, to providing designated motorized scooter parking if appropriate to the context of the development (the use, location, type of individuals served).

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  • 06Jun

    In case you don’t think elections matter for the future of Rochester, read how the Rochester city council almost destroyed the opportunity for a $200 million transformative waterfront project. Recently the council almost did the exact thing (in another location) by placing a suburban Associated Bank complete with surface parking on the riverfront.

    Here is the presentation (complete with many high quality renderings) of the proposed $180-$200 million dollar Bloom Capital project on the downtown Riverfront. The council will consider a preliminary development proposal this evening.

    Bloom Presentation to DMC

    While this is early; there is huge potential with this project. And it almost never happened due to Rochester cronyism and a lack of vision by some Rochester City Council members.

    Instead there was a proposal to place a 4 story parking structure on the river with a few levels of housing above it. Anybody with a shred of vision could see that there was so much more potential for a riverfront project in Rochester. However that proposal actually tied on an initial vote 3-3 and then failed at the next meeting by a 4-3 vote. That’s right, half of this enormous project was almost made into another parking ramp on the river.

    We almost lost the site a second time to Mac Hamilton, who in my capacity as a city councilman, I have come to learn is one of the dirtiest people I have ever met. You can read about some of the actions he has taken on this blog. Shortly after the city council held a design competition for what was to become Metropolitan Marketplace (People’s Food Co-op) Mac Hamilton executed a maneuver to try to sabotage that project for his own benefit. Mac submitted one of the 4 proposals for the site and came in a distant, distant last place with a really pathetic proposal. In fact, he refused to even put active uses on the ground floor since he believed commercial was not viable in that area. Every other project was substantially better.

    Rather than accepting he had an inferior product and moving on, he bought the adjacent building (by legal loophole according to the owner) and attempted to get the city council to instead choose his inferior project. Behind the scenes I met with Dennis Hanson and he agreed that the best project should win.

    What does this have to do with the Bloom Proposal? City administration informed us that Mac then offered to exchange his parcel for city property between 3rd & 4th along the river. The council stood its ground (unanimously this time) and Mac sold the property a week later (for a large profit).

    Elections matter…

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  • 16Apr

    The improvements the city made to the (Denise Robertson ;-)) Uptown area continue to pay dividends. We took an blighted stretch of roadway that was unsafe for all users and turned it into an urban section that is safe for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and cars. The market is responding with huge increases in property values, a number of private developments are in the works, and sales of existing properties are off the charts.

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    The result is a district that is safer, more attractive, but also generates so much more in tax revenue that it will pay for the full cost of enhancements in less than a decade.

    I look forward to sharing several new developments with the public in the coming months.

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  • 04Apr

    As many of you know too much of government happens hidden from public view. One of those items came out today and was already approved by the Rochester City Council before you ever heard of it.

    Today we received notice that we were supposed to appoint 14 members to the “heart of the city” task force. The 14 were selected out of 95 applicants, most highly qualified. Some good news, the appointees are far more racially and generationally diverse than most of our boards. Now the bad: Once again women are horribly underrepresented on a civic board despite some incredibly talented people applying. In fact the woman behind the highly successful midtown conversations was not even appointed.

    In the end I was OK with 13 of the 14 members appointed. I however took exception to the Mayor and Council appointing a paid lobbyist that actively lobbies the City Council on Development Issues to this task force that will set development policy. This probably isn’t illegal, it may be ethical, but anyone possessing common sense knows this is wrong.

    As such I filed an official question, not a complaint, with the Ethical Practices Board, here is the text of that question:

    Should a person who is paid to lobby the city of Rochester on policy by a private organization (as their primary occupation), be appointed by the city council to serve on public boards steering public policy or directing public investment?

    It is important to realize that the board the person in question was appointed to deals with the specific policies that the person is paid to advocate on. Oh by the way, this was all done out of site from the public at the last minute. The information was not even in our council packet for this week. No one else from the council raised the issue, President Staver saw no issue at all and defended the appointment. Nick Campion did abstain from the vote.

    Edit, here is some technical guidance:

    A member of a city commission shall not “Represent private interests before the Common Council or any City committee”. City Ordinance ch. 13, subdiv. 2(E).

    Those that pay your salary get their interests first…

    I still believe cronyism is bad and integrity is important. This failed on both accounts.

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  • 19Feb

    Edit: I noticed website traffic is through the roof today. Just a friendly reminder that if you a appreciate a strong protector of public money please consider a campaign contribution. 2016 campaign limit is $600 per person, most people donate between $25 and $100, $100 or less is anonymous: donate here

    Upon some reflection this evening here are my thoughts on this doomed project.

    Bottom line: I am disappointed, but integrity and fiscal responsibility will always be more important to me than any on project. I think the public will be excited to see some of the other projects being proposed in this area.

    I suspect the site will not be quiet long with the clock ticking on the alley vacation.

    So the Holiday Inn is now dead and I am left shaking my head over what could have been. A series of issues that could have been addressed early on, seemed to keep coming back and plaguing the project. I haven’t been able to say much about the project previously because we were in a quasi-judicial capacity. Now that I am no longer in that capacity I will say that I suspect the project would have passed the council with minor changes at most and a 7-0 vote. In the latest iteration the project was probably the nicest large non-Mayo project the city would have had in that area. The real death of this project came by way of the heavy public subsidies that they were asking for. The first time I saw the project, I thought the biggest potential objections had already been addressed.

    There were a number of things that conspired to cause problems and for once I have to say that the city council was not one of them. In fact, Randy Staver, who I have certainly had some issues with this week, accepted my invitation and sat with the developer and neighbors in an attempt to work out some issues. Multiple times… And we did for the most part…

    Here are some of the issues the project ran into:

    • A lack of planning (zoning) – The incentive development process, poor underlying zoning, and the continued inability to produce a 21st century zoning code that actually works in urban areas. No excuses for this. I have been asking for a zoning code refresh for 8 years, and continue to. We have a good 2nd street plan with no way to implement it. While we are updating the comprehensive plan, staff has talked the council out of acting on zoning until the plan is done. I feel that current zoning is so bad for both neighbors and developers that I wanted to override staff’s recommendation and do it any way, but I was on the losing end of that vote.
    • A lack of planning (infrastructure) – We don’t have a good plan for 2nd street Phase IV yet. Further staff still can’t answer the question of what the most efficient and cost effective tunnel system would look like in that area. It is really hard to design around infrastructure when you don’t know what it will be. It is also hard to justify public subsidies without a plan for public benefit.
    • Poor Communication – Staff really did little to engage vested parties, I personally felt left out of their loop and actually had to point out numerous errors in interpreting the 2nd street plan. It appeared to me that there was more of an attempt to contort to the development than make the development fit a vision. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the city administrator was willing to double TIF, because he never told the council.
    • High land acquisition costs – I think that the price the developer was paying for the land made it uneconomical, as such they were looking for a ton of public assistance which was hard to justify.
    • Lack of public benefit to justify high subsidies – There would be some benefit from having true public parking, perhaps some from ROW setbacks and streetscape, maybe some from a tunnel, but not enough to justify what they needed to make the project viable. I saw this and DMC also saw this. While the neighborhood had delivered a letter of support, they pulled it after seeing the size of the requested subsidies, with those types of public subsidies they felt like the public should get more.
    • The Holiday Inn brand – I don’t think it is fair to judge the quality of the hotel by the brand name, but the public was not excited about that brand, I suspect neither was Mayo. This might have been the nicest Holiday Inn in the country. The public certainly didn’t want any tax dollars to go into a “Holiday Inn.” I personally think you need to separate a brand reputation and the hotel, but I think that was out there.
    • Larry Brutger – I like Larry, but frankly many neighbors did not. In talking with Larry, I thought he was congenial and pragmatic. However much of his experience was in more suburban developments, this was a very urban development. To his credit he hired a tremendous architect out of the cities which was very capable. I think the issue was he got some terrible advice, rather than working through some issues, he was told to submit plans ASAP. This made many in the neighborhood furious, which was too bad since some issues were minor. The neighborhood fought for many things that were important to them like a neighborhood friendly 1st street and raised numerous issues at the planning level. Further because of the submittal, Larry was limited on changes he could do from that point on.
    • City staff perception by the neighborhood – With all the issues many neighbors came together to have a visioning event at Forager Brewing. Not only to talk about this project, but really the greater area. Perhaps a couple hundred people showed up, including a majority of the council and most DMC staff. However not a single person from city administration, county planning, or public works showed up at this well attended event.

    From the start this project was asking for a ton from the community by way of incentive, variances, and subsidies. In the end it just didn’t look like they were going to get the subsidy then needed.

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