On July 28, the St. Paul Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend a redevelopment plan for the 135-acre Ford Motor Company property in the Highland Park Neighborhood of St. Paul. Nearly a decade in the making, the plan would provide the zoning and land use guidance necessary for any master developer seeking to redevelop the site. Originally constructed in 1912, the Ford property became available for redevelopment when the Twin Cities Assembly Plant closed in 2011.
The proposed redevelopment plan would divide the Ford property into six districts and allow for increased height and density in each district moving east away from the Minnesota River. For example, along the western end of the property, residential development (including townhomes and multi-family buildings) would be limited by a maximum height of 48 feet. Along the eastern end of the property, near existing commercial development, the plan allows for buildings between four and 10 stories tall.
Planning Commissioner Kris Fredson successfully amended the plan to allow for a slight increase in density along the river in an attempt to decrease the pressure for high-density development in other parts of the site. Earlier versions of the plan called for “mansion-style development” overlooking the river which would have reflected similar single-family residential communities north of the property along Mississippi River Boulevard.
While the plan was approved unanimously, it is far from noncontroversial. The Planning Commission received approximately 400 written comments and nearly 50 people testified at a public hearing in early July. The majority of consternation surrounding the plan – including the concerns of new community organizations like Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul – focuses on the proposed density and the number of new residents expected. City planners expect somewhere between 2,400 and 4,000 new residential units and as many as 7,000 new residents in the area in the next 10-15 years.
Critics of the plan have repeatedly expressed concern over increased traffic and congestion. That being said, other segments of the community – including members of the community group Sustain Ward Three – see the increased density as essential to maximizing the taxable value of the property while also creating the kind of pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community new residents are seeking.
The St. Paul City Council is expected to hold a public hearing this fall prior to taking up and potentially voting to approve the redevelopment plan. A formal decision on zoning and land use is likely the last obstacle to the Ford Motor Company’s sale of the property to a master developer. With an estimated $1.3 billion in potential investment in the site pending, the development plan will likely loom large on the City Council’s fall agenda. Controversy over the proposed redevelopment plan could also be a factor in St. Paul’s mayoral election this November as at least five candidates vie to replace Mayor Chris Coleman, who is stepping down to run for governor after 12 years in office.
Photo credit: city of Saint Paul