• 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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  • 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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  • 03May

    I am really impressed with the detail and analysis contained in this report. All of the recommendations in this report are quite conservative and easily implemented. Robert Hickey of Grounded Solutions engaged a wide range of stakeholders to ensure accuracy of the data.

    Mixed Income Housing Policy Report Read more…

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  • 06Mar

    This was sent out as the “final” revised Stantec report. The Stantec report articulates the significant issues in the Olmsted County Planning Department (note these are funding, staffing issues; not problems with existing staff). It has been half a year with no action.

    The initial report was bleak, spot on, and a call to action. Here is where you can find that initial report.

    Initial Report (edit: hopefully fixed the link)

    I have not reviewed what was changed, but would be very interested in a member of the public summarizing the changes for me.

    Well, well, well, it would appear significant changes were made and no one seems to know who made these changes. It certainly was not done by any public body in any public meeting. Thank you to the person OR people that provided this analysis:




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  • 14Dec

    My intent was to get some answers to the questions I posed prior to posting this information. Unfortunately the city administrator forwarded a draft to the county so at this point I am simply providing my list of questions. Below is a tremendous amount of detail, but I will give you a short summary. Based on reviewing 2016 documents it appears that neither PASC nor Olmsted County are living up to their obligations pertaining to planning. It also appears likely that there was a closed meeting held in violation to Minnesota’s open meeting law. Record of this meeting was withheld from the meeting minutes.


    So this happened: Comments by the Council President

    These kind of comments distract from the serious issues we have in Planning and with the PASC. I don’t think the public yet understands how much of a mess this is and how much it hurts the community, especially neighborhoods facing development without modern guidance. Here is the latest version of the agreement (2015). A subsequent PASC meeting occurred and there were no actions taken ahead of the City & County Budget cycles.

     photo Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 11.34.53 AM_zpswloa01z3.png

    I am concerned about the effectiveness of oversight by PASC. As such I am requesting that Ken Brown, chair of PASC and Richard Devlin, County Administrator provide answers to these questions. In reviewing the minutes there appear to be a number required actions by PASC missing. Additionally there appears to have been a closed meeting, which may have violated Minnesota’s open meeting requirements. Perhaps I am simply missing some information. I am committed to ensuring that the city of Rochester planning needs be met. Currently, as clearly indicated in the Stantec report, this is not happening. This appears to largely be the result of a lack of resources for the planning department.

    Questions I have for staff:

    1. At which 2016 meeting did the PASC make a formal motion to provide general direction to the Department through the director of planning? If so what was the date of approved resolution?
    2. In 2016; did the PASC recommend an annual (2017) levy for operation of the Department to the County Board? If so what was the date of approved resolution?
    3. In 2016; did the PASC approve either the 2016 or 2017 annual budgets for the Department? If so what was the date of approved resolution?
    4. In 2016; did the PASC approve the annual work plan for either 2016 or 2017? If so what was the date of approved resolution?
    5. Do the city administrator, city attorney and other staff feel that criteria i-v (section 5 of PASC agreement) are being adequately met by the planning department? photo Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 11.35.39 AM_zpspwju4upv.png
    6. Who directed Mitzi baker to release director comments & corrections on August 25, 2016? Was PASC involved? This is highly unusual since she previously released the report without commentary. Adding to the confusion was the immediate cancelation of a joint city / county meeting that had been scheduled to discuss the report.
    7. Did Olmsted County take any actions as a result of the release of the Stantec report? Was PASC involved in those decisions?
    8. How has stakeholder responses been evaluated / recorded in regards to the Stantec Report? Will there be a public hearing on the topic?
    9. Which recommendations in Section 6.0 of the Stantec report has PASC discussed, addressed, or decided not to address. What was the date of formal actions?
    10. At the September 2016 meeting, why did Ken Brown close the public meeting? Why is there no record?
    11. Why did the PASC Minutes from September 2016 fail to include rational and formal action allowing Jim Bier to participate in the meeting as he is not a member of that body. Was Jim Bier allowed to attend / participate in the closed meeting?
    12. Which of the 9 permitted reasons were used by Ken Brown to close the September 2016 meeting.
      1. to discuss labor negotiations strategy;
      2. to discuss data that would identify victims of criminal sexual conduct, domestic abuse, or maltreatment of minors of vulnerable adults;
      3. to discuss active criminal investigative data or internal affairs data relating to alleged law enforcement misconduct;
      4. to discuss non-public educational, health, medical, welfare or mental health data;
      5. to discuss an individual’s medical records;
      6. to conduct preliminary consideration of allegations or charges against an individual subject to the public body’s authority;
      7. to determine the asking price, review nonpublic appraisal data, or develop counteroffers on the purchase or sale of real or personal property;
      8. to receive security briefings, or to discuss security and emergency response issues, deficiencies, or procedures if disclosure would harm the public’s interests;
      9. when permitted by the attorney-client privilege (Supreme Court has narrowly construed this exception to the point where there must be pending litigation, or a definite and unequivocal threat of litigation before a meeting can be closed).

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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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  • 13Sep

    Shared without comment…

    Mayor/Council: On September 19th, you will conduct a public hearing to consider a request from the Kwik Trip Corporation to rezone approximately 6 acres of city owned property adjacent to the new Fire Station #2  on Viola Rd. The purpose of this e-mail message is to convey some information concerning this matter, realizing that you cannot respond prior to the public hearing.

    –The City has a proposed purchase agreement from Kwik Trip in the amount of $1,560,000. This is the value as established by an appraisal of the property. In addition to the payment, Kwik Trip is to assume the city’s responsibility to install utilities to the two lots and construct the Wheelock Dr. extension to East Circle Drive. The city has this obligation to install utilities and construct the Wheelock Dr. extension  pursuant to an agreement with the property owner to the south. The estimated cost of this work is $1,003,953 and no city money has been appropriated to date for this work. The city’s obligation was to complete the roadway extension by the end of 2016; a request for bids for the work was in process but was delayed due to the possible purchase by Kwik Trip, with Kwik Trip doing the project.

    –In my discussions with Hans Zietlow of Kwik Trip, I doubt that Kwik Trip will proceed with the purchase if the request to rezone the property to B-4 is not approved.

    –There apparently is a lot of concern about pedestrian safety in this location, with students from Century High coming to a possible Kwik Trip. This safety concern would be in place with the current zoning of B-1 since a Kwik Trip store can be constructed as a B-1 use; a 24 hour operation would require a B-4 zoning.

    –The Planning Department is apparently placing a condition on a rezoning to B-4 that requires the completion of “a pedestrian access and circulation study and the development of” a pedestrian improvement plan that includes on and off-site improvements necessary for safe, convenient non-vehicular access to/from the development from surrounding areas and origins”. Mr. Zietlow does not know what would be the elements of such a condition and he is not willing to agree to an open ended condition. I have asked the Planning Department to provide some information on what would be involved in such a condition and how an applicant would know  the elements to implement. If the current sale to Kwik Trip is terminated, the City should possibly implement such a study before the property is again offered for sale .

    –The Public Works Department has indicated that the reconstruction of Viola Rd is being recommended to move up from 2019 to 2018, at which time a traffic signal would be installed at Wheelock Dr.

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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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  • 19Jul

    Here is the draft Parks Masterplan. I haven’t read through it yet, but based on the presentation I thought they did a nice job on facilities, but the presentation was a little light on addressing environmental & connectivity issues. Let me know what you think.

    I also learned that they do not want a hockey stadium in Mayo Park. In fact many parks staff learned of the proposal after reading about it in the newspaper.

    Parks Masterplan Documents:


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