Brief History of Open Space at Ford Site

"Open space: Natural lands, athletic fields (even if managed by non-city entity), recreational lands, community gathering spaces and recreational buildings which are publicly-owned and/ or publicly-accessible. The term is not intended to refer to privately-owned lands, yards, urban plazas, stormwater treatment areas or public street rights-of-way unless, through agreement, the land is designated as public space with a recreational and/or habitat function. (p. 13)"

 

The City later reverses its earlier guidelines and claims that private areas: balconies, atriums, and even grass roofs with NO public access, are 'Open Space.'

In the Master Design open space is clearly differentiated from that part of the property occupied by the building itself, Variances asking revisions of these two dimensions are side by side in the plan and on requests for variance.  See the graphic below from page 66:

June 2020: Open Space Becomes Something Else

On June 20, 2020, moments prior to a meeting of the Community Development Committee of the Highland District Council, members received a surprising notice that one of the variances requested by Ryan Builders was no longer required because open space had been redefined: " Just prior to submitting the variances for 830 Cretin Ave and 2170 Ford Parkway to the Highland District Council, Ryan and the City expanded upon the definition of “open space” and concluded “all private property areas that meet the open space definition — ground level or above grade –- apply 100% towards meeting the Open Space requirement.” Ryan and the City appear to have agreed that under this “new” definition of “open space,” the proposed buildings at 830 Cretin Ave and 2170 Ford Parkway would meet the 25% open space requirement

This was awkwardly explained in an email from PED staff Tia to the CDC.

This made several committee members quite upset since it was clear that PED was going to drop open space by defining it away as planted surfaces.

In response to this sudden and unexplained change, NLSP sought a writ of mandamus to demand that the City follow its own definitions, or at least have some. Click on link below for access to all writ action materials.

How About Some Citizen input?

On Wednesday, October 13, 2021 many neighbors were preparing letters in support of the original Master Plan to submit to the City Council. Suddenly, the 13th was not the day for the hearing. It was the day we discovered that the 2nd hearing, when the public can offer its responses to changes in Zoning Plan had been changed to October 6th. Our response below:

 

President Brendmoen and Members of the Saint Paul City Council,

 

Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul was preparing letters and testimony for the October 13th City Council Hearing on the Ford Site Zoning Plan Amendments: Open Space Lot Specific Standards.  While viewing the October 6th City Council meeting, we were shocked to hear that Councilmember Tolbert and Council President Brendmoen moved to close the public hearing.  After further investigation of this unexpected turn of events, we learned that the date for the public hearing had been rather deceptively changed to October 6th.  It appears to us that this abrupt change was either a careless mistake or intentionally devised to ensure that public comment would be derailed.  In either case, it is unacceptable.

 

We pose the following questions to Council President Brendmoen and all Councilmembers, and we ask for an immediate response. 

 

1.  How do you explain and justify sending the 9/1/2021 ENS notice of the Ford Hearing on Open Space

Amendments, with this agenda item at the top of the page, and then several items down on the same notice, you    announce a change of date to one week earlier?  Failing to place the change of date at the top of the page or at least pair it with the original hearing date is misdirected and deceptive. 

 

2.  How do you explain the confusion demonstrated during the October 6th City Council meeting?  Council President Brendmoen didn’t remember that the staff report had already  been presented at the first reading. Councilmember Tolbert moved to close the public hearing and lay over to October 20th.  Then Council President Brendmoen moved to layover to October 13th because it is “non-controversial”. How do you explain this confusion?

 

3.  How do you explain the remark that this vote is non-controversial.  We remind you that there was litigation on this matter and your file of meeting materials contains 65 letters of opposition.  Please explain your remark.

 

4.  On every previously discussed item from the October 6th agenda, you state that the publichearing was held virtually, but you fail to refer to a virtual public hearing for items 47 and 54.  In fact, no acknowledgement or invitation for public comment was made.  Please explain. 

 

5.   If you did indeed hold a public hearing virtually for item #47, where can we view this public hearing?  

 

6. Why was the procedure for amending ordinances changed from 4 readings to 3? Why was this done and why was this not codified and made public?  This action appears intended to fast track the open space vote and shut down public comment.

 

7.  Numerous citizen letters were sent prior to the Planning Commission Hearing. Those letters are not included in the materials on the city Council agenda.  Please explain.

 

8.  The 9/1/2021 ENS announced that public comment was limited to voicemail and written submission—NO online participation.  Yet, this is inconsistent with the COVID process  allowing online public comment.  NLSP relied on this directive that reflects COVID protocols. When was this new process implemented?  Please see the link to the directive about online testimony below:   

 

 https://www.stpaul.gov/department/city-council/city-council-public-hearing-live-testimony

 

At this point, we can only assume that the City Councilmembers have neglected or refused to hear our voices. Consensus-building, good faith, and the rule of law no longer appear to be a part of municipal governance in our beloved city. It appears to us that political expediency to benefit developers over citizens is guiding the decisions of our elected officials. Please let us know if we have made this assumption in error. 

 

Again, we ask for your immediate response to our questions, no later than Thursday, October 14.

 

Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul

NLSP remains committed to promoting responsible community development that enhances the existing neighborhood and the City overall. we need your financial support to ensure that we have the resources to help fund this effort, the pending petition, and future legal action. Please consider making a contribution to support NLSP's Legal Action Fund by clicking HERE.  

Although PED defeated NLSP's writ action in court it was clear from the Judge's statements and just logic and good common sense, that PED's perplexing attitude about defining open space was something that needed cleaning up. The document (32 pages of it) which attempts to do so is linked above. See what you think.

When you've reviewed materials to your satisfaction, please click on the next link and submit comments reflecting your feelings.

If you're as confused by this as most are, please let the City Council know via email to "contact-council@ci.stpaul.mn.us" or by voicemail at 651-266-6805.