Neighborhood associations in Northfield – where are you?

As most LoGro readers probably know, the new Comprehensive Plan is finally done and was adopted by the City Council last month.

The Land Development Code Advisory Group is now reviewing Northfield’s new draft ordinances, which are/were being written concurrently with the Comp Plan by the consultant from ACP Visioning & Planning of Columbus, OH. The advisory group met twice in November and will be meeting at least twice this month as well. The LDC Advisory Group consists of several city staffers, members of boards and commissions, a City Council rep, and volunteer experts representing architects, engineers, builders, developers, environmental groups, and others.

The first draft of the new code contained language pertaining to “city-recognized neighborhood associations”. At the first November meeting, I brought up the question of what neighborhood associations the city currently recognizes, and the answer was: None. There’s also no process yet for officially recognizing such groups, so that needs to be addressed too.

For example, the part of the LDC draft says,

. . . the applicant may be required to meet with property owners and any city-recognized neighborhood association within 350 feet of the proposed property prior to submitting their application in order to solicit input and exchange information about the proposed development.

This draft text was specific to a particular level and complexity of development – not EVERY proposed change to the built environment – but it illustrates my question: What neighborhood associations are recognized, and/or how do they become so?

According to state law, neighborhood associations must have defined boundaries; the City hasn’t yet determined any further criteria, or, for example, what to do if there are two associations vying for recognition of the same area (not a very likely scenario, but still).

So….. what can citizens do? The first constructive step would be to take whatever nucleus of neighborhood groups currently exist, and try to define boundaries. Naming neighborhoods is something that I’ve long thought would be beneficial to Northfield for many reasons. (“Neighborhoods, NOT subdivisions!”)

The only organized neighborhood association I know of is the one in my area, the Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association. I’m sure there must be others – if you know of one, please comment (and provide a link if possible). I would hope that each association or neighborhood group would stake their turf in cyberspace, too; with all the free hosting of blogs available at blogger.com, wordpress.com et al, there’s no reason not to, and it makes communication and dissemination of information much more streamlined.

15 thoughts on “Neighborhood associations in Northfield – where are you?”

  1. Tracy: Is there a problem defining “neighbor” as someone within 350 feet?

    It seems that including neighborhood associations in the political process is adding another, unneeded level of citizen participation.

    First, Northfield has elected ward representatives who represent their wards.

    Second, a neighborhood association does not represent the interests of all of the neighbors; it only represents those who join.

    Third, there is no way to assure that there is a uniform membership requirement for the organizations, nor a uniform use of such groups throughout the City.

    Fourth, how do we determine the boundary of the neighborhood association?

    I see so many definitional problems that, in my opinion, it would be best to remove any such neighborhood association language.

  2. My experience of living in Minneapolis and St. Paul makes me think that defined neighborhoods are a good thing. I lived in Merriam Park, in St. Paul, and in Marcy Park and Linden Hills, in Minneapolis. The neighborhood boundaries were identified with signs. The neighborhoods gave me another level of belonging in a big city. Northfield is not nearly as big, but I identify with my neighborhood on the northwest side of Nfld in a way that I don’t with the other parts of the city.

    I’m part of the LDC advisory group Tracy describes above, and in one of our meetings city staff member Brian O’Connell described how such groups can help developers avoid problems when doing projects. They provide a lower layer of public interaction that improves communication.

    Let’s identify some Northfield neighborhoods and get people talking to one another!

  3. David L., using your criteria (that neighborhood associations “only” represent those who join), then I’d have to conclude that the City Council ward rep can only represent me if he/she is the candidate I voted for.

    Obviously, you and I must disagree about how much citizen participation is helpful. I believe that the more knowledge, participation, and involvement citizens have, the more the community and local government benefit.

    It sounds like a lot of your concern is an almost logistical one (e.g. too many people speaking at city council meetings, “wasting” time), which could be addressed by using more effective methods of taking and recording citizen input.

    Even if we keep things just as they are – wouldn’t it be more effective to have one speaker addressing the council as the official representative of a recognized neighborhood association, rather than having fifteen individual neighbors wanting three minutes each?

  4. I think the neighborhoods built after about 1990 to the East and Southeast of town are are named for the development name on the city maps. And I think the people who live in them consider them neighborhoods, not subdivisions. After a subdivision is built-out there is no need to call it a subdivisison – it is now a neighborhood. Among them are Hills of Spring Creek, Rosewood, Rosewood Estates, Mayflower Hill, Quail Run and Heywood. Most have a president, who turns over every year or so, and most have a treasurer and a board to collect association dues and approve expenses. Those that are largely town-home associations with much more “common property” including yards provide lawn care and snow removal. Some are made up of single family homes and have some minimal covenents regarding the property rules and some minimal area beautification such as mail box standards and common flower planting areas. Many have come to Council Meetings representing their neighborhood concerns over the past decade. While some are formal, some are completely informal but both styles have a developed sense of a “leadership team” to initiate discussion when needed.

  5. Tracy: Neighborhood association is, at best, an ambiguous term. Ambiguous terms do not belong in code.

    Putting neighborhood associations into the code when Northfield currently does not recognize any such political creature only invites mischief from those who live outside the 350 foot radius.

    Is there something about the 350 foot radius that does not presently work? Could it be solved by making the radius slightly larger than its present 350 radius?

    What about organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce who represent people in all areas of the town? Shouldn’t the Chamber be consulted on just about every decision?

    Larry makes a valid point about homeowners assocations. Shouldn’t those assocations have exclusive and sole jurisdiction over their residences?

    You are right about there just being too many logistical problems to serve any useful purpose.

  6. Regardless of what we do with the code, I think we should follow the lead of Minneap0lis and St. Paul and formalize neighborhoods with names and boundaries in Northfield. One start would be to talk with people in those cities and learn about any pros and cons to what they’ve done.

  7. I think neighborhood organizations and designations make sense in large cities like Minneapolis, but are an unnecessary level of bureaucracy in a town as small as Northfield. We have wards, so why not capitalize on that system by encouraging all the townhome associations and neighborhood organizations to network on a ward level? The councilors could do combined quarterly listening/networking sessions to promote cooperation and discussion in an organic way — and promote better understanding of ward boundaries and issues. You can’t force a neighborhood into existence, but you can nurture the vitality of the wards we already have.

  8. Thanks, David. The more I think about this, the more benefits I find. Quarterly meetings would be frequent enough to allow staff to outline any projects, plans and proposals and allow feedback. Residents would get to know about the meetings and look to them for information on their area (and the city as a whole), rather than having to monitor the paper or city website and risk missing a meeting. Maybe the council could even do a meeting in each ward once a year, just as a way of reaching out. It could be fun and really help the people across the city feel their voices are being heard.

  9. It’s a start, but the way the ward boundaries are currently drawn really doesn’t address what I’m talking about. Neighborhoods are smaller than wards and often have naturally defined practical boundaries (river, highways, parks). Having seen the exponential growth of Northfield over the past decade or so has convinced me that neighborhood associations could be genuinely helpful. I don’t agree that the town is too small to need them.

  10. Wouldn’t it make more sense to align the ward boundaries more effectively than create another set of boundaries that most residents won’t know or care about?
    Creating ‘neighborhoods’ that don’t align with ward boundaries means having some neighborhoods with two councilors and split voting. Why would anyone want to create a system that makes things more complicated?
    You still can have neighborhoods within the wards, if people feel the need for them. And the newer areas usually have defined neighborhoods with homeowner associations. Perhaps the focus should be to collect information on what’s already out there and then see where the gaps might be.

  11. Tracy: What are the demographics, geographics, and membership requirements for the East Side neighborhood association? The website doesn’t state whether I would be eligible as an East Sider.

  12. David L., I’ll get right on that East Side website thing to be sure that people like you can’t get in.

    But seriously… I’m sure the NESNA has defined the boundaries, but I don’t know what they are. And they don’t have “members” that I know of. I’m on an email mailing list, and I get occasional block part invites taped to the handle of my front door. That’s all I know.

  13. Tracy: I was serious. The website makes it look more like a club than an association. There is no information on who is eligible to join, or how a person can become an associate.

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