It Doesn’t Look Green to Me

Following in Councilor Pokorney’s, Councilor Erica Zweifel recently wrote a guest column for the Northfield News. I found it to be a curious piece.

Erica opened with her commitment to sustainability. She identified what she believes to be core principals of sustainability: Compact Development, Multi-Modal Transportation, Open Spaces, and Mixed Land Use.

I have had a number of substantive intellectual exchanges with Erica, and I know that she is indeed committed to the concept of sustainability. However, I don’t see the business park as an implementation of the principals of sustainability.

My understanding of Compact Development is that you should expand to continuous areas. Although a connection between the business park site was created through a back-filling annexation and a modification in the the original request, looking at it on a map makes me think of a turkey’s head and neck, sticking out from the body of Northfield.

I understand that the Master Plan has sketched bike trails round the new development, part of Multi-Modal Transportation. I also remember the, I think, eight-page letter from MNDoT to the City, raising transportation concerns for this business park, summarized by a state official and a local developer as “you can’t get there from here”.

I would imagine that a large percentage of the land will be preserved as Open Space in order to absorb and filter stormwater, reducing the pollution that runs into our stream and rivers. This makes a lot of sense, since much of the site is hydric soils, what I call swamp, others call marsh, and, I believe, is technically considered to be wetland. As the local expert on site preparation said, it will be very expensive land to develop.

Mixed Use Land development is all the rage these days. It’s really a return to traditional community design, where people lived, worked, and played in the same neighborhood. When a few of our leaders were pushing this project so vigorously two years ago, they told us that a new business park would bring new customers to our two existing retail districts, downtown and uptown. I don’t understand why the most recent plans for the business park have tens of thousands of square feet in retail in the first phase of the project.

I just don’t see any sustainability in the heart of this proposal, in spite of the “green” details decorating the margins of the plan. A sustainable business park would be next door or across the street from our existing infrastructure and transportation modes (including rail), not in a corn field or wetland, and would support our existing restaurants, retail and service businesses, not bring in new, out-of-town, national-chain competitors.

The Master Plan may have served a purpose. It has shown that the concept advanced by a few of our leaders for the past two or three years is of doubtful feasibility and questionable value. I hope that our leaders will learn from this process and redirect our scarce resources to an appropriate scale development, in a location that gets leverage from our existing infrastructure and gives leverage to our existing businesses, that results in a truly sustainable plan and development.

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