Et tu, Davis?

There’s yet another installment in the “let’s build a business park” series. The most recent piece is by Planning Commissioner Tracy Davis.

Her thesis is that we have adequate space for living, playing and shopping but we lack space for business expansion and recruitment. Tracy quotes the Comprehensive Plan, saying Northfield’s intent is to “promote economic development by…increasing the availability of commercial and industrial land”.

Tracy recognizes concerns about the Master Plan, particularly the cost of infrastructure and what she calls “the limited housing and retail” in the plan. She also admits that the plan does not address the economics of development, which I assume means a cost-benefit analysis.

Finally, she contends that the City has tools to ensure quality development and mitigate adverse consequences. In spite of admitting that Northfield has a poor record of institutional memory, political will, and, some might add, keeping promises, Tracy expresses confidence that actual results will match the initial vision.

Tracy, I’m tempted to quote the New York Times’ “go-to” Northfield Planning Commissioner by saying, “What a bunch of crap”.   Instead, I’ll say that it just doesn’t make sense to me.

The estimated cost of infrastructure, according to the Master Plan, is $29.4 million. Assuming that the business park is 100% developed according to the consultants’ plan, it will take over 12 years before the financial benefits exceed the costs, and that doesn’t include a time-value of money or bond interest payments. Until then, Northfield’s taxpayers will be bearing this $30 million burden.

Phase 1 of the plan calls for 570 units of housing, 87,000 square feet of retail, 708,000 of office space, 635,000 of light industrial and industrial space, and 120 hotel rooms. Phase 2 shows an additional 81,675 square feet of office space and 110,000 square feet of “civic” space. In my opinion, it’s not really a business park, it’s a so-called “lifestyle center”.

Yes Tracy, it is possible to shape the development through Northfield’s planning process. However, if the project does not achieve development and/or occupancy as Master Planned, how long many years will taxpayers bear the burden, or the Council resist the pressure, before Northfield decides to let go of the original plan and build another 600 units of housing, a Zantigo, a Jiffy Lube, and a WalMart?

Sure, our process will increase the possibility that the designs will be more fitting with our sense of place. The Zantigo will have a traditional neighborhood bistro look, the Jiffy Lube will feature rear entry access, and the façade of the WalMart will be broken up with architectural details. Ultimately local taxpayers will have invested $30 million to create a mini suburb of housing and retail halfway between Northfield and Highway 35.

Tracy, you know that going back to the late Ron Griffith’s request over three years ago, a cost-benefit analysis has never been provided because it just doesn’t add up. Tracy, you know that it is only by a huge stretch of a very flexible imagination that this business park fits our Comprehensive Plan. Tracy, you know that our tools to control development won’t be enforced long enough for the ink to dry.

As I said Tracy, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

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