Podcast: EDA’s Rick Estenson on commercial property and Northfield’s business parks

Rick Estenson, Tracy Davis, Ross Currier Our guest this week: Rick Estenson, chair of Northfield’s Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Rick also is a veep at First National Bank Northfield and treasurer of the Northfield Rotary Club. He denies ever having shot a poodle.

The discussion was all about the availability of commercial property in Northfield, and the possibilities for business parks.

For more on the issue, see this week’s Northfield News article titled City wants to grow business.

 

Click play to listen. 30 minutes.

Our radio show/podcast, Locally Grown, usually airs Wednesdays at 5:30 PM on KYMN 1080 AM. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe with iTunes. We seek your comments and suggestions.

84 comments to Podcast: EDA’s Rick Estenson on commercial property and Northfield’s business parks

  • 51
    Ross Currier says:

    David --

    I won’t speak for the entire Planning Commission but I will speak for myself. You have completely, totally and, I believe, intentionally, misrepresented at least my opinion on the business park.

    Your one true, again in my opinion, statement is the Chamber has sent us one or two letters over the past two or three years championing the creation of a 320 acre business park northwest of the hospital. In fact, the Chamber called that location the “only reasonable” site for the creation of additional commercial/industrial land.

    If you had attended the joint Planning Commission -- EDA Work Session on Tuesday night, you would have heard each and every Planning Commissioner state that he or she recognizes that Northfield is in great need of additional jobs and tax base and that increasing the supply of commercial/industrial is a key step toward that goal and that they are committed to working with the EDA to realize this objective.

    One of the questions that the Planning Commission has been asking for the past two or three years is how much land do we really need to add. Although the Chamber (based on what information, we don’t know) says we need 320 acres, the Land Use consultants said 120 acres. The EDA has suggested 220 acres, perhaps splitting the difference. In fact, several months ago, Planning Commissioner Tracy Davis and I attended a Chamber Board meeting to discuss this specific topic and to try to gain clarity on the matter. The result of that meeting seemed to indicate, at least to me, that the source of this recommendation is the collective wisdom of the Chamber Board, for which I have great and sincere respect.

    Another question the Planning Commission has been studying is the Chamber’s claim that the property northwest of the hospital is the “only reasonable” property for the expansion of commercial/industrial land. In fact, it is clear, at least to me, that the members of the EDA also have strongly favored this location. On the other hand, several Planning Commissioners have repeatedly asked about sites west of Armstrong Road and south of Highway 19 and directly north, along Highway 3 and the railroad lines. For about 18 months, we have been told by the “leaders” and “experts” that they were impossible and did not even merit serious discussion. In the past few months, and even few weeks, we have found that they are not impossible, may be possible, and, in fact, could even offer great potential. I, for one, am glad that the Planning Commissioners continued to ask these questions for the past 18 months.

    Finally, there is the annoying but essential question related to the Future Land Use Map. Not many non-Planning Commissioners know this fact, but we Commissioners are really supposed to base our decisions on this important, perhaps most important, document. On the Future Land Use Map there are two areas of particular interest for Annexation questions, the Priority Growth Area and the Urban Expansion Area. We are supposed to Annex land that is in one of these two areas. Fortunately, there are over 1,500 acres in these two areas. Over the past 12 months, the Planning Commissioners seem, to me, to have come to the conclusion, based on comments made in our public meetings, that if we annex in some of these 1,500 acres, it should be for commercial/industrial purposes.

    The West Armstrong and North/Waterford sites are clearly within these Priority Growth and Urban Expansion Areas. According to members of the City Staff and the EDA, a portion of the Northwest Territory is in the Urban Expansion Area. Unfortunately, no one brought a map documenting this fact.

    Perhaps most importantly for me and at least, seemingly to me, one other member of the Planning Commission, there is the question of infrastructure costs. Our Comp Plan says that we must consider this cost in contemplating annexation. In fact, I have read somewhere in the Northfield Chamber of Commerce material that land use decisions should include not only the cost of infrastructure but also the sources to pay for this cost. It strikes me as sound business analysis. The Planning Commission was respectful but clear that an estimate of potential infrastructure costs, or as one Commissioner put it, a cost-benefit analysis, would be an important bit of information to have when considering annexation.

    There was some discussion about the need to have commercial/industrial land expansion, where ever it may be, add to, rather than detract from, Northfield’s “sense of place”. I will note, once again because you weren’t at the Work Session, that all members of both the Planning Commission and the EDA seemed to support this concern. In fact one member of the EDA, who happens to be a strong supporter of the Chamber, and a member of the Planning Commission, who is not a strong supporter of the Chamber, had a side discussion about the need to be either a low cost producer or a high quality provide when competing in business. They both agreed that Northfield faced challenges in being the low cost producer and so needed to leverage the high quality provisions from its assets. One of the those assets was universally recognized as Northfield’s “sense of place”.

    Finally, you repeat your dislike for “mixed use”. In fact, the concept sketch for the business park in the northwest territory had a rather large portion of Phase 2 of the project drawn as “mixed use”. I asked why if we needed commercial/industrial land would we be annexing land in order to create “mixed use” in our business park. I was told that it was just an idea and didn’t have to be part of the project.

    I believe that Planning Commission is hoping to have the questions raised Tuesday night answered when the topic of annexation comes before us. Personally, I also hope that you, David Ludescher, will be able to attend that meeting. I think that I can safely speak for all of the Planning Commissioners when I say that we greatly and sincerely value your comments.

    -- Ross

  • 52
    David Ludescher says:

    A number of comments to several good posts:

    1. Annexation only allows for the possibility of development. It does not mean it has to be developed. But, nothing can be done without annexation.
    2. 320 acres was recommended because it allowed for future growth. 120 acres could probably used up by the time it was built.
    3. The Armstrong Road was considered. There are numerous obstacles, many environmental, plus the amount of land is not significant enough to accomodate the future.
    4. A 320 acre site does not mean that it has to be developed at one time. It does allow for more than just haphazard development as the need continues to arise.
    5. The interested parties in the NW quadrant were told that they had to include parkland, and housing in the mix of the concept plan because the development principles called for such development.
    6. Tracy and Ross did come to the Chamber meeting and we reviewed the Chamber’s goal of 320 acres. Unfortunately, that goal was not included in the Comp Plan.
    7. The 120 acre plan was limited -- in large part to preserve the “sense of place” that the consultants thought that Northfield wanted to preserve. It was not based upon an economic model of what the Northfield business enviroment needed or could support.
    8. We have some willing sellers. This may not be something that we have in the future.
    9. Perhaps most importantly, to quote Tracy, “Size DOES matter”. A small business park is unlikely to attract many businesses, result in greater prorata infrastructure costs, and increase the land costs.

  • 53
    Tracy Davis says:

    David, I can’t address all the points right now, but I must counter your assertion in #7 that the recommendation was “not based upon an economic model of what the Northfield business environment needed or could support”. That certainly is not true, nor what TIP Strategies wrote in the E.D. report. Where did you get that idea?

  • 54
    David Ludescher says:

    Tracy:

    I got that idea because the report stated that Northfield wanted to preserve its “sense of place”. “Sense of place” was the report’s overriding concept. From reading the report, 120 acres could be introduced without destroying that “sense of place”. The Chamber thought that 120 was enough in the short term, but 320 was needed to accomodate future growth. (I think that 320 would make us a “place of sense”.)

    Remember we aren’t talking about 320 acres popping up instantly on the landscape. We are talking about 320 available for development if needed. Further, if we are talking about the kind of mixed use development the Planning Commission is recommending getting 120 acres of business development out of the 320 might be a stretch.

  • 55
    David Henson says:

    Northfield’s highest value business asset MOM is a mixed use environment to which quite a few employees can walk.

  • 56
    Tracy Davis says:

    Dave L., all I can say is that I’ve read the same report you did and came away with a different view of the extensive analysis that went into the 120-acre recommendation. It definitely WAS based on economic data, not on wishful thinking. I’d encourage everyone reading this to download the report and draw their own conclusions.

    Part of the dilemma, with which the chamber apparently disagrees, is that Northfield cannot compete with Lakeville and Faribault for large expanses of cheap land. Doesn’t it make more sense, as David H. has suggested in previous comments, that we not try to market Northfield as a commodity but rather play to our strengths, and focus on the target industries identified in the Ec Dev Report as being most compatible with what Northield does have to offer?

    I also believe there’s been a misunderstanding about both the definition and applicability of the mixed use concept in re the “business park” or land designated for commercial development. As a general philosophy, especially for infill development or redevelopment, I’d favor zoning for mixed use; but if we continue with the business park concept, limiting the land uses could be the best strategic move -- depending upon the location and features of the site so designated.

  • 57
    Anne Bretts says:

    In all this discussion with each other, have you all talked to the industrial brokers who are the ones most likely to bring you the customers to fill an industrial park? It’s great to determine what Northfield wants, but if no one is buying what you’re selling, it seems a pretty inefficient process.
    There are a number of smart, effective industrial brokers from United Properties, Welsh, CTMT, CB Richard Ellis, etc. Kraus-Anderson has some holdings here already. Boldt Construction, which is building the new science center at St. Olaf, has people who are experts in industrial/commercial land.
    There are many people who would sit down and review your ideas and tell you what’s realistic.
    If a site is realistic, a developer will buy the land and put in the utilities and develop the site. Duke Realty just opened the 165-acre park in Otsego, a small town but one with good highway access. That highway access means the northwest quadrant is the most likely place for success. At the very least you’re going to want to have a broker working to fill the site.
    Perhaps it would be good to ask the experts — the ones who are closing the deals — to weigh in on this. It wouldn’t cost anything, except maybe lunch.
    Then you’d be able to mesh your goals with market reality — or decide that you don’t want growth.
    The ‘good news’ is that it will be about a year or two before the market starts to recover, so you have a little time. The bad news is that when it does, you’ll need to be ready to compete immediately.

  • 58
    David Henson says:

    I briefly looked into street cars and one thing that became quickly apparent is that land along street car tracks becomes worth a fortune. I think if Northfield could install a street car loop: that ran from Carleton , down Division, to the schools, to Target, to Dundas, to the hospital (and future business park), to St Olaf and back to Carleton -- this would dramatically up the value of the town as a destination, a great place to live and a great place to locate businesses. As soon as the guys who own that land see what a street car could do to valuations they will be on board (sorry for the pun). I bet a NF brain trust with the support of the colleges could get state and federal money to partially back such a project.

    This is what it could look like http://www.gomacotrolley.com/Resources/melbourne.html

    And these “consultants” can tell Northfield the costs and benefits:
    http://www.urscorp.com/URS_Division/index.php?section=0602

    I’ll bet if Northfield did this the brokers would be lathering to be part of development and accept any design restrictions the citizens required.

  • 59
    Anne Bretts says:

    David, that’s a very creative idea, but with construction costs of about $1 million a mile and operating costs in the millions each year, the ridership here wouldn’t support the investment.
    It was hard enough getting federal support to link Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the next lines are going to be north to Duluth and then possibly the Dan Patch.
    I think there might be some merit in a cleverly designed and promoted tram or bus line that could do the loop you described. Right now there is a limited bus line, but I doubt it is self-supporting.

  • 60
    kiffi summa says:

    All of this squabbling back and forth about interpretations of the TIP Econ. Dev. report is rather fruitless; obviously each person will make the case that supports their POV.

    Tracy obviously feels secure in her reading of the report, David L. in his……
    David L offers the COC’s resolution passed in support of 320 Ac. “to support future growth” as an argument for what is needed…….

    The EDA proposal , is I think, 400+ Ac. ; is that because that’s the sum total of what the farmers working with Land Vista want to sell?

    ****What no one is responding to here, is Ross’s well made argument for the DESIGNATION of that land, in the Future Land Use Map. ****

    The designation in the Future Land Use Map, in the Comp Plan, guides the development principles, and allows the city to react to development requests as they come up. That designation also sends the clear message to developers that the city is welcoming that type of development on that land. What could be better? It’s kind of like “having your cake and eating it, too”! It puts all the control in the hands of the city, as to how they wish to guide development. Isn’t that precisely what needs to happen?

    As soon as you annex the land, and especially WITHOUT a well developed concept plan…….which the city council in their infinite wisdom (?) has already given Land Vista a “by” on……. you have given up the city’s control on what happens on that land, as long as ordinances allow.

    This land should, to satisfy the future needs of all parties involved, be designated in the Comp plan’s Future Land Use Map……that’s the purpose of that tool……… and then see what development ideas come forth.

    To do other than that, puts the control of land that is crucial to NF’s future needs, in the hands of others; not the City, which is where that control should reside.

  • 61
    David Henson says:

    My understanding is that street cars are far less costly than light rail. But no doubt, the investment cost and payback would have to be considered. However the answer could be a pleasant surprise !

  • 62
    Anne Bretts says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to see what the competition is from other communities, look at how they’ve failed and succeeded and see what — if any — development works for Northfield? There seems to be an awful lot of speculation on what Northfield should target, without any real information about whether those targets are reasonable. I’m not saying the city should bow to developers or businesses, but designing something without knowing whether there’s any hope of selling it seems an odd strategy.

  • 63
    Rick Estenson says:

    I have been meaning to weigh in on the discussion this week if only to point out that the EDA has been in discussions over the past many months with Developers who know how to put together a commercial/industrial/business park and we have asked advice on the size aspect as well as the steps it takes to complete such a project.

    Admittedly, we had these discussions with some hope in our mind that there would be several of them ready and willing to put some of their money into getting something like this done while also knowing that we would need to help explain to them what we expect the development might look like (or not look like) so they don’t waste their time or ours on a plan that has no legs. None of them immediately stepped forward to offer such a role but all of them spoke of the long term nature of such an endeavor and the importance of getting some “control” of land and selection of sites to begin the serious conversations.

    They were also of the belief (and this was later confirmed in my mind by a fellow from the Department of Employment and Economic Development for Minnesota -- Gene Goddard) that this is truly a desirable community to many potential employers given our location from the Twin Cities, our good Schools, our Downtown, our proximity to an International Airport and so on just to name a few.

    The companies we have had ongoing discussions with include names you might recognize like Ryan, Opus, McGough, MetCon, Steiner, Welsh and a number of our local businesses that get involved in these types of projects as well. McGough has continued to offer us advice on the steps we are going through and I believe other Developers would be willing to reengage with us to give us some assistance from their points of view as well as time goes on.

    We have not selected any one party or group to work with exclusively on this. Just wanted you all to know that we have not tried to do this in a vacuum or without many hours of discussions with professionals. There is always a balance between coming out with a plan too prematurely versus too developed. I would like to think we have found some level of balance so that the community can affectively help shape the solutions. If we are all in agreement that we need more space for development of existing and future employers to Northfield, we then have the basis for working toward a good solution.

    I view this as a good opportunity for us to take the first steps toward actually getting something done (please don’t twist those words into believing that I don’t care about the quality of the end result or the potential impact to the character of our community). As long as we can continue to have some open discussions and public input, we can make progress.

  • 64
    Anne Bretts says:

    Rick,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I was sure that with you at the helm there would be some solid market research, but I just never saw that component of the process in the comments here. The companies you have named are some of the best in the market, so it seems like everything is moving in the right direction. Great work.

  • 65
    Griff Wigley says:

    Today’s Nfld News editorial: Commercial park important for future.

    Malt-O-Meal’s decision last week to build a warehouse outside of Faribault without even having looked at Northfield, where it already has a facility, should’ve given city leaders pause. We can no longer afford to let such obvious opportunities to draw in business pass us by.

  • 66
    David Henson says:

    Has MOM actually stated this warehouse would have been in Northfield had there been a business park ? Is the current Northfield industrial park full ? I also have not heard too many posts against a business park as the News indicates … I think Rick mentioned that brokers want to know what the park would look like which I think is what citizens are also interested in seeing.

  • 67
    David Ludescher says:

    David H:

    If there is a general consensus that we (the Northfield area) need more business land, then we should annex now, and decide the design later. Annexation is more about making it possible to have more land, not about what it will look like.

  • 68
    Jane Moline says:

    This has been interesting reading. I just want to make a point that if companies move to Dundas, they are still in the Northfield school district and in the Northfield area for jobs. When MOM expands to Faribault, they are taking our tax base there. It would be very practical for MOM to expand close to their manufacturing, but they need to expand now and can’t wait for Northfield to find land--So, David Henson, we lost out on jobs and tax base because we did not have available land.

    I think it would be smart for Northfield and Dundas to work together to establish available industrial land in both cities (through annexation as needed) and to expand their cooperation to the surrounding townships and work with the county to get more industrial property. (The ideal location for the MOM warehouse would have been at the intersection of 35W and county 1, but that seems to be beyond the capacity of local planners.)

    That said, I have to weigh in on the property tax discussion. Scientific studies show that C/I property is a net gain for municipalities, even if some city officials want to believe otherwise. People use municipal services, complain to their city council, write letters to the editor, have domestic disputes, use drugs, drive drunk, have load parties, and fall asleep with burning candles that set their homes on fire. Corporations abide with strict building codes that include sprinklers to suppress fire, often are closed at night, and generally are law-abiding. AND they can’t vote.

    One of the basis for state-wide property tax reform during the Ventura adventure was to address this disproportionate business tax and shift the tax back on the people who vote--and the result has since been an uproar as the state cut LGA to make up for the cut in business property taxes--if we have to pay for it ourselves, we can hardly stand it.

    Before the reform, when the city council raised the local levy, it went disproportionately to business, and they couldn’t vote. Now, even though the burden is still skewed against business, we are unable to afford out municipal costs. (There is another side to the reform--Ventura had proposed an increase in Sales tax to make up for the decrease in property tax--but that never happened so the entire burden shifted to the schools and municipalities--one billion dollars a year--a loss we try to replace with local referendums.)

    So, we need to expand our tax base in C/I if we really want to get ahead--for every dollar of Commercial property we have a net gain, while for every dollar in residential property value (based on new residential, not existing) we have a net loss as we need to hire more police and provide more services when our population increases. Usually that goes hand-in-hand--when we increase our commercial/industrial, there is an increase in residential due to job opportunities--we just need a good balance so we don’t tax the businesses to death.

    David Ludescher said that we should look to Dundas, and I kinda think he was not sincere (maybe he was being sarcastic even if that is against the rules-Griff?) However, HE IS RIGHT. Northfield and Dundas should be working together as it is in their best interest to keep C/I in the Northfield School District and not argue about which city it ends up in--we really blew it with MOM by not anticipating that need.

  • 69
    Anne Bretts says:

    The News is exactly right. This issue has been unresolved far too long. So many other towns have a clear vision and have acted on it while Northfield still is talking about planning concepts.
    Is it true that MOM is in a dispute with McLane, which led MOM to pull out of warehouse space owned by McLane and head to Faribault? If so there’s the problem of MOM pulling out and the problem of helping McLane find a new tenant. It’s complicated by the fact that McLane owns the building, but it is simply one of several distribution centers for a big company based in Texas. That means its business is very portable, and it has enough capital to move and sit on the empty space until it sells, which could take years. (think of the giant State Farm campus sitting empty in Woodbury). With 650,000 square feet of space in the building, it would be a challenge to find another buyer or tenant.
    Now I don’t have any reason to believe McLane wants to move. I’m just saying this town can’t treat commercial property as a tax cash cow. The McLane people came to Northfield in 2002 because it had a huge building ready to go and decent access to I-35, not because it had a cute downtown or nice colleges or rolling farmland. Since it came here, many cities have developed the capability to offer it huge buildings near interstate highways.
    It doesn’t mean Northfield has to “cave” to business at the expense of everything else in town. It just means that means that Northfield needs to get sharp, get competitive and get moving to stay in the game — if commercial/industrial is the game it wants to play.

  • 70
    David Henson says:

    David L -- I don’t think the land is going anywhere -- you can be 100% sure housing won’t be taking it over soon -- I don’t know about anyone else but I would think a) the city should annex everything it can get it’s hands on b) commerce is good c) an ugly business park that uses up 10 times the land required to accomodate the economic activity is the worst idea possible for Northfield and d) a super empowered design commission to protect the city’s major asset -- It’s look and feel -- should be added to the city charter.

  • 71
    Anne Bretts says:

    David H., what exactly is the look and feel you want to preserve, particularly in a business park? The high school, middle school, Bridgewater, the city public works building, the hospital and safety center all are projects where government had control and chose buildings that are the polar opposite of the principles talked about so often in limiting and cricitizing private business. Putting five-year-olds in large modern buildings for 12 years hardly instills a yearning for small, old spaces in old buildings — it makes them comfortable in big boxes (or in decent, needed facilities, depending on your point of view). It’s like putting people in cars for 50 years and asking the children who’ve never seen a train to start using one.
    The fact is that Northfield has a historic district that serves some purposes well and it has other areas that serve other purposes well — and some areas that do neither.
    I’m curious as to how you would you make an business/industrial park fit Northfield’s character? And since the feel of a town is such an ephemeral and personal thing, I am curious as to how you’d get concensus on design standards for the broad array of buildings that make up a city where government has made such modern choices.

  • 72
    Ray Cox says:

    Northfield has to decide what types of jobs it wants to work to attract. Some communities develop industrial parks and fill them with businesses that support all sorts of blue collar jobs. Northfield has never really done that, and really doesn’t have much to offer in that regard. We don’t train, attract or promote blue collar jobs like machinists, plastic injections, etc. Our housing costs are such that it is difficult to afford to live in Northfield for many people.

    Most of the jobs that we grow today are service related. When the area at the south edge of town was developed for businesses, the developer wisely worked with the city to create a ‘commerical/industrial’ park. The majority of the businesses there today are not really industrial and are more serivce related….such as my construction company shop. There is even a school located there now.

    Over the years when business owners have come to me to help them expand their business I find that Dundas or other communities that have land available are where the business expands. This is now true even for service related businesses. Examples are Lonsdale Painting/Trimcote and Pumper Plumbing….both ending up in Dundas. College City Beverage is a more recent example. When Astral Technology and Northfield Auto Body wanted to build their facility I worked very hard to break off a piece of land from other owners to keep them in Northfield. It took a lot more time and work but was successful. However, that only works if you have an owner that wants to wait and is willing to front some upfront costs to get the site. Now we really don’t have that option any longer as all sites are pretty much used up.

  • 73

    Ray (or anyone else who might know),

    What’s that open area between your company and ARTech? I’ve often wondered why no one has developed there. Seems large enough for a business about the size of yours, maybe larger. Is that tied up for some reason? Just curious. Thanks.

  • 74
    kiffi summa says:

    Re: Ray’s last comment. Ray, Ross Currier says that there are about 100 Ac., total, up and down highway 3 (maybe I’m wrong and that 100 Ac. includes the Armstrong road property)…….but at any rate, there IS a lot of land that is already served with infrastructure, or at least is bordering the infrastructure. I would agree there aren’t a lot of very large parcels. There are, I believe, some that are 30 AC. or so.

    What is wrong with the more conservative position of NOT annexing, but DESIGNATING land for industrial development , on the Future Land Use Map, and then retaining the control of the use of that land when a concept plan comes in with the annexation request?

    This seems to me to be the position to be in; why would those that favor annexation not want to have MORE control ,rather than less?

    Please explain…….

  • 75
    Ray Cox says:

    The open area south of my shop and north of ARTech is vacant land owned by the owners of the ARTech building. They desire to keep the land and building together, so that a future user may purchase the whole site, allowing for expansion of the facility. Right now if the ARTech building were to expand it would most likely need the vacant land. It is generally easier to sell commerical/industrial property if it has some additional land.

  • 76
    David Henson says:

    Anne -- I agree that the cat is part way out of the bag. I never meet people that really want Northfield to become suburban in scale so I would estimate a consensus could be had as to a “human scale” vision for Northfield. Achieving the vision would require constant discipline which is why I would suggest some type of constitutional commission were the community to attempt a “change” of direction. I am not a fan of the new public buildings in Northfield. I will take it easy on the schools except to say the image of the rush hour traffic jam every morning at the Middle School is like a poster child for thinking critically about design. I think the city hall should be kept downtown but I am sure some invisible force will push towards a big sprawling monstrosity out by the hospital. I think MOM is industrial and fits Northfield’s character. I think that original character involved a lot of pride in building aesthetics, smaller footprints, more density and a greater sense of community.

  • 77
    Tracy Davis says:

    I just read the Northfield News editorial that Griff referred to in comment #65. Near the beginning of the editorial, the News states, “Members of the city’s Planning Commission expressed concerns that commercial growth could hurt the city.”

    Since I missed last Tuesday’s meeting, I can’t say whether anyone from the News was actually present; the statement is so bizarre it makes me think either they were not, or perhaps the News rep has narcolepsy and missed every other sentence in the discussion.

    At no time over the past several months, in any of our discussions of the Comp Plan or in working with the EDA on the business park concept, have I EVER heard anyone on the Planning Commission express concern that “commercial growth could hurt the city”. On the contrary, I believe I have heard each member of the Planning Commission at one time or another talk about the importance of working to ameliorate the problems created by unbalanced residential growth over the past couple of decades.

    The best possible construction I could put on it is that the News rep may have woken up and tuned in to part of a discussion about the importance of HOW growth occurs. Otherwise, there’s no way to account for this statement which on its face is simply false.

  • 78
    David Ludescher says:

    Tracy: I think that the newspaper’s editorial is a fairly accurate representation of the Planning Commission’s approach in the Development Principles and the Comp Plan. On one hand, the Planning Commission has paid lip service to the idea of a business park concept, but when it comes time to put words on paper, there is much more talk about bicycles, pedestrians, mixed use development, and other concepts which, even if not intentionally business unfriendly, nevertheless indicate to present and prospective businesses that business is a low priority.

    Jane: I wasn’t being sarcastic about looking for land in Dundas. The Chamber is the Nfld AREA CoC. The Chamber decided to add Highway 1to its transportation priorities so we could support our members in Dundas and southern Northfield. I think it makes sense to have Dundas and Northfield coordinate their activities on a business park. So, if Dundas has some ideas on a business park, let the Chamber know.

  • 79
    Ray Cox says:

    Anne, I’m not sure about the 100 Acre statement. The best thing to do is to look at a zoning map and also a vacant land map and compare them. I do know there are no big parcels of land available. The city had a very difficult time putting together just one rather difficult site for College City Beverage. We had to stack up against the Dundas location that offered much more area.

    A few years ago I went into visit with the Com. Dev. Director. I was trying to locate a site for a business. He showed me a three ring binder of available sites. As I flipped through the binder I came to my construction company site. He had colored the rear 3 acre parcel as ‘available’. I pointed out that the site was not available. He stated that since it was vacant land in a C/I zone he put it in the binder. There is a big difference between vacant land and available land. As I noted in an earlier post, many businesses have vacant land as part of their overall site to provide future expansion.

    David, your comments about the schools point out one of Northfield’s other shortcomings….planning/process. I was on the school board when we started to plan for a new elementary school. The first thing we did was stop at city hall to meet with the planner and find out where the city would like us to locate a school. The reply was ‘you can put it anywhere you want because it can go in any zone with a conditional use permit’. We responded that ‘yes, we understood that, but wasn’t there a specific part of the city that city planners would like to see a new elementary school, and the associated utility work, located?’ The answer remained the same.
    Some years ago we had already purchased 60 acres of land for a future Middle School. Without any city support we ended up deciding to take 15 acres of our Middle School site and use it for Bridgewater, and then purchase another 15 acres at the south end of the Middle School site to keep our required 60 acres. The problem here is the city shouldn’t have relied on the school board for city planning. I tried hard to get the city involved in our process, but they only wanted to react to our proposals, not advocate for any of their ideas. I never liked that as I thought a city planning should be less passive and more involved in true planning.

    It is important to have a vision for Northfield and have the staff and supporting members promote that vision. When a school board comes forward and asks ‘where shall we locate a school’ there should be a happy, immediate, thoughtful response. Same for most business inquiries.

  • 80
    David Ludescher says:

    Ray: Good point about the difference between vacant and available land.

    When the schools and the hospital built their sprawling, big box facilities, I don’t remember the citizens complaining about preserving the “sense of place”, and destroying our biggest asset -- the “look and feel” of Northfield.

    If anything public institutions should be held to a higher standard than private companies because the cost of the higher standards is borne more fairly.

  • 81
    Anne Bretts says:

    David L., thanks for your comments. I wasn’t in town when all those projects happened, so I was baffled by how they fit into this sense of place thing, which I still haven’t seen carried out in any meaningful way.
    I do think there are ways to reclaim the safety center site and eventually work with property owners to redevelop the Q block so that downtown is connected to the highway in a way that conveys that sense of place. The idea of a historic district in a modern town makes sense, and really integrating all the space from the veterans park to the Crossing along both sides of Hwy 3 and both sides of the river seems more doable than some massive sense of place discussion involving the hospital and industrial parks and the soccer fields. I think the Ames Mill and the bike trail and the river and the railroad make nice anchors that could provide an architectural theme.
    I think a 20-year plan could include a new commercial building in a Depot theme (or a city hall) in the Q block, a bandshell in Ames Park, some great redevelopment of the safety center, a public or private redevelopment of the riverfront mall to highlight the river side, all of those would be reasonable and attainable ways of expanding and highlighting the city’s assets, while linking the downtown to the highway. Remember, with a 20-year-plan, projects could be done as properties become available and developers are found, so there wouldn’t be a legal fight over forced redevelopment.
    Wouldn’t it be great if all the city’s architects and planners and the planners of the colleges could focus on a look and style for that area that would breathe life into the phrase ‘sense of place.’

  • 82
    William Siemers says:

    I don’t have much experience with, or historical knowledge of, the myriad of ‘plans’ referenced in this thread. But I would still like to raise a few comments.

    I drove past the hospital yesterday. I do not understand how building a 320 acre business park (someday) on this land would interfere with Northfield’s ‘sense of place’. It’s a corn field adjacent to a fairly generic hospital campus, that itself is seperated from any distinctive part of Northfield by quite a ways. Granted, St. Olaf’s campus is up on the hill in the distance…but let’s face it…aren’t those students living in the high rises already looking out on quite a bit of sprawl. And in any case they are by no means close by the prospective site.

    Regarding preserving/protecting ‘sense of place’ in a more general sense: It seems to me to be a rather hard to define concept. Everyplace has a ‘sense’. And everyone has a different sense of those places. It’s a very personal idea. I prefer to think in terms of protecting and preserving the distinctive sense of a place. At least that is something about which an agreement or a consensus can be reached.

    Northfield has a great downtown including the river area. The college campuses add to the attractiveness of the town. To me that’s it. That’s our distinctive ‘place’. The rest of the town has some nice places and some not so nice. We have what scores of other towns in SE Minnesota have. I agree with preserving our distinctive sense of place, but how can it be preserved where it doesn’t exist….particularly in an empty field.

    I also don’t understand why a business park should be small…in keeping with Northfield’s ‘scale’. What is the ‘scale’ anyway? It seems to me that there are any number of ‘scales’ in town. From huge warehouse complexes to tiny boutiques.

    On the face of it, much of the opposition to this idea seems to be various planning agencies protecting their turf. This is well and good…that’s why they made their plans after all. But sometime new opportunities arise that force a new look at existing plans and quick action becomes essential.

    The acquisition and annextion of this land seems like a good idea for Northfield. Worst case, pending development, maybe it can be rented out as crop land….

  • 83
    Rick Estenson says:

    I wanted to make a brief comment here about my take on the meeting the other night with the EDA and the PLanning Commission concerning the potential annexation of additional land to our NW that the paper covered and then this string of conversations has commented on as well. Perhaps it is because I have met with many of the individuals involved in smaller groups that I have a view of their questions in a different light. It has seemed to me that everyone on the Planning Commission is delighted at the prospect of gaining additional land for C/I development and they understand the importance to our tax base and health of the community. The fact that they ask questions at this time that might have a tone of some question as to it being in our best interest as a community (either financially or otherwise) does not rile me up too much because it is through this process of hearing many questions that we get to improved answers of our collective goals. It is great that we live in an environment where people can ask hard questions, get the best answers available at the time and then take the appropriate action by voting yes or no. It takes a simple majority to accomplish and often we look for unanimous votes but we are designed for a system that is intended to be ruled by the majority.

    So, I would encourage the Northfield News & others to not try to sensationalize any of the disputes as if this is another great divide in our community until it is crystal clear that that is the case (and I am not suggested they necessarily have at this point). Each of you commenting on this thread can also obviously, ask/comment away but since the future is no more clear to us today than it was about today just a short year ago, please don’t expect hard evidence on every question. The topic of keeping a sense of place was commented on by the TIP Consultants as an important element of our uniqueness so it seems like a sensible discussion to me but several of you are correct in my mind that this is a very subjective measure with a number of built in assumptions that are often hard to peel back and identify.

    In summary, while I remain convinced we should look at this annexation possibilty as good for us and only the first step of many that will lead us to more available C/I land to offer to existing and future employers in Northfield, this is a good time to get a lot of the questions and concerns out on the table. Let’s not beat one another up for asking or assuming things or stating their views because it is through this open process we can hopefully reach a good decision for the community for the next couple decades.

  • 84
    David Henson says:

    Here is an example of a commercial building with an Ag feel :
    http://www.british-publishing.com/Media/CumbriaOG_2005/westlakes.jpg

    Human is scale would just mean being able to say to your child, “why don’t you ride your bike over and meet me for lunch at the building” as an extreme example of accessibility. Something one could easily do if you worked at MOM (allowing for crossing 19), or the current City Hall, or the old Hospital, or downtown.

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