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.

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.

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. (continued here)

 

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

ON 10/13/2021, SAINT PAUL CITY COUNCIL APPROVED OPEN SPACE ZONING CHANGES AT THE FORD SITE
The vote was six to approve the changes with one abstention by Councilmember Jane Prince who wanted to better understand the implications of the open space and building lot coverage changes. Understanding these changes is very important because Saint Paul taxpayers are paying millions of public dollars for the Ford development, and the city needs to get this decision right.

WHAT HAPPENED? THE CITY COUNCIL SHUT DOWN PUBLIC COMMENT  
Here's how we see it. Recall that NLSP mounted a legal challenge against the City of Saint Paul on their application of the definition of “open space” to private roof-top decks and patios. The judge commented in his ruling that it's possible to conclude that the City of Saint Paul failed to perform their official duty imposed by law to enforce the Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan - a key conclusion that the city has consistently denied. To evade this finding, the city's new solution is to eliminate the concept and definition of "open space" from the master plan altogether.

In August, the public submitted 65 letters of opposition to the Saint Paul Planning Commission (PED) as part of the public record.  Ignoring this overwhelming opposition to open space zoning changes, PED approved changing open space zoning and passed the proposal to the City Council for action.  This was supposed to include another round of public comment.

The City Council took desperate and extreme measures to ensure that public comment was stifled.  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 reviewing the October 6th City Council meeting video, we were shocked to see 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 deceptively changed from October 13 to October 6.  It appears that this abrupt change was either an extremely careless mistake or an intentionally designed maneuver to ensure that public comment would be derailed.  In either case, it is unacceptable.

We learned further that the City Council not only changed the date for public comment, they also eliminated opportunity for online public comment.  This contradicts the city's own COVID-19 protocols published at its website that allowed for online public comment.

Why did the city go to extreme measures to prevent public comment on these zoning changes? These changes will increase building density and allow the city and the developers to avoid inconvenient public variance processes and public scrutiny. These changes remove the guardrails that are intended to prevent reckless development.

Who does NOT benefit from these changes in open space requirements? The public who is funding the Ford development and will have to pay for and deal with the consequences of these changes long after politicians and developers are gone.

What is the best course of action that we taxpayers can take? 
Contact your City Council representatives and hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.  Carefully examine the actions of those who are elected to represent the people.

NLSP URGES RESIDENTS TO CLOSELY EXAMINE WHO REPRESENTS THEM AND HOW DECISIONS ARE BEING MADE. 
The City Councilmembers have refused to hear our voices.  Consensus-building, good faith, and the rule of law no longer appear to be part of municipal governance in our beloved city.  Political expediency to benefit the developers over the voters appears to be guiding the decisions of our elected officials.

It has become increasingly important to closely examine who is representing the people and how decisions are being made.  In case you missed it, please see the link below to view the mayoral forum that was held on October 12th.  This forum was sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Saint Paul and The Saint Paul Neighborhood Network. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfEmdBmrRAM

Sincerely,

Neighbors for a Livable Saint Paul
https://www.livablesaintpaul.com
livablesaintpaul@gmail.com

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.  

Mail Chimp
Oct. 15,2021