Sunday, July 20, 2014

Missed opportunity?

Those of us who live "up North" recently have been the recipients of some visits and subsequent write-ups from folks whose blogs are normally metro-urban centric. The St. Paul Real Estate Blog had fun last Friday with a photo of the Eichten's buffalo. Before that, did a nice write-up on their recent visit to Chisago City, Lindstrom and Central City. Since turn-about is fair play, I thought I might share some thoughts that were triggered by a recent Burl Gilyard report that I saw in MinnPost. (My Minnesota continues to believe that creating great cities is one of the best ways to protect great natural areas.) Now, to be clear, this posting is focused on the Snelling and University TOD development Gilyard mentions, not the 7 Corners site.

One point that seems to be missing from the MinnPost article, that really caught my attention when I did a little digging, is that, although the article mentions "$64.3 million in infrastructure costs at the site," it doesn't seem to have included a detail, that $40.2 million of the total infrastructure cost would be for structured parking [see above and page 13 of the report]. Perhaps that amount of structured parking has become standard for TOD, but investing (expending) two-thirds of a project's infrastructure cost on structured parking for a "transit village" seems oxymoronish (is that a word?). When I worked for the City of Minneapolis, I was involved in several potential Transit Oriented Development efforts. As part of my due diligence, I became somewhat familiar with the Oakland, CA TOD project known as Fruitvale. There's a case study available online, from which this quote is taken:
"To encourage balanced, mixed-use development, a new zone was created for the Fruitvale station area, combining residential, commercial and civic uses such as child care, education and health care. The zone allows the highest residential densities in the neighborhood. An overlay zone reduces parking requirements in the station area by half, although BART required all original parking capacity be replaced. An overlay zone created especially for Fruitvale required one space for every two units, cutting in half the city’s usual one space per unit minimum. [emphasis added]

The other aspect of the Fruitvale development that seems at variance from what I've found so far, in either the TOD Redevelopment Strategy Report or the University and Snelling Station Area Plan, is a clearly documented description of the affected neighborhoods' visions and goals. Again, from the Case Study
"Through a grassroots process involving numerous community meetings and charettes in multiple languages reflective of the many cultures and ethnicities in Fruitvale, the community suggested a mixed-use village with retail shops, community services and mixed-income housing."
The potential benefits of such an approach as that followed by the folks in Oakland was reinforced for us when, awhile ago, I read about how a truly creative developer used crowdfunding (among other approaches) to engage the neighborhood and future users of a project in a charrette process that appears to offer a potential to be truly transformative. Perhaps there's still time for city and metropolitan leadership to show the creativity of which they're capable by adapting the kind of examples mentioned here rather than creatively finding money to throw at what, at first reading, appears to be a fairly typical development proposal with limited potential to transform the surrounding neighborhoods. I hope this brief review will help St. Paul, the Metro Council and the affected neighborhoods create some great city places at Snelling and University.

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