Pat Harris and the St. Paul Ford Plant Project: Admitting we have a problem is the first step to giving power back to neighborhood residents

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St. Paul’s Mayoral race has been, so far, a pretty close to the vest campaign.  This is, in large part, due to the fact that all of the current candidates for Mayor are attempting to curry favor with the small band of DFL activists who control the fate of the party’s Mayoral endorsement.

While voters will elect the City’s first new Mayor in more than a decade it is still far from certain who is willing, and able, to lay out a vision for St. Paul that is not much more than a copycat of the current vision for the future of the Capitol City.

(For the purpose of this post, it is important for me to note that I have not endorsed any candidate, nor have I expressed any public support for a candidate.)

One of the most important issues the next Mayor will have to contend with is what type of development will take place on the site of the former St. Paul Ford Plant.

Yet, more important than that, is what impact that development will have on tens of thousands of residents who live within a two mile radius of this site.

On November 14th, 2016 the City of St. Paul released what they called a “draft” plan for the 135 acre Ford site.

That “draft” plan called for the acres to be split into six zoning districts.

Merrit Clapp-Smith, the lead City Planner for the Ford site in describing the “draft” plan said of the Ford site:  “It will have a neighborhood feel.”


If your neighborhood suddenly got 10,000 more residents – thousands more cars – and not enough infrastructure to deal with the massive new amounts of traffic that would suddenly be screaming past your house – or clogging up the road in front of it.

That’s the “neighborhood feel” tens of thousands of St. Paul residents will wake up to if City Planners and the vast majority of St. Paul City Councilmembers – including Ward Three Councilmember Chris Tolbert and Ward Four Councilmember Russ Stark– get their way.

One word, and one phrase, in this post are captured in quotation marks on purpose.

The first is “draft” plan.

Anyone who has spent any time dealing with the City’s approach over the past several years to things like bike lanes and the Ford Plant have come to learn that there is no such thing as a “draft.”

A “draft” would suggest that something is open to being substantially reconfigured.

There is no such reason to hope that the City of St. Paul’s master planners, or Saint Paul City Council, are remotely open to a substantially reconfigured pre-conceived notion of what they want the Ford Plant development to resemble.

The phrase” neighborhood feel” is also incongruent with what most people in St. Paul understand “neighborhood feel” to look like.

It’s an attempt by City Planners to woo taxpayers into believing that there will be some reasonable attempt to avoid destroying the investment that tens of thousands of residents and small businesses have already made in their community.

Today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press headline reports, “St. Paul Mayoral Candidates Differ on Ford Site.”

For the first time in months I have finally found a source of some light and hope for optimism in the race for St. Paul Mayor.

Pat Harris, mayoral candidate and former Ward Three Councilmember, is quoted as saying “The traffic implications of high density can have an extremely negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, going out many, many blocks,” said Harris, who is pushing for more green space on the site. “Extreme density could cause major issues.”’

He is, of course, right that high density can have extremely negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, going out many, many blocks.

He is right that extreme density could cause major issues.

Unfortunately, one of the leading candidates for Mayor, Melvin Carter, thinks everyone living in Ward 3 who has expressed concerns about the unchecked Ford Plant Development Juggernaut, should “be brave.”

Furthermore, he says “I think that there’s a lot that we can do toward building the kind of community where people don’t have to leave to buy a gallon of milk, or take their kids to the park,” he said, in an interview. “I don’t think we should approach it from a lens of how do we limit growth.”

In other words, according to Mr. Carter, the people who are expressing concerns about the central planning that has been at the core of the Ford Plant Development scheme have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Space does not allow me to articulate the number of ways that Mr. Carter is mistaken that all that is needed for the residents of my neighborhood  is to get some courage.

What is really needed is the candidates for Mayor to call for an immediate end to any further work to be done by the City of St. Paul and its planners on the St. Paul Ford Plant site.

Pat Harris is on the right-track in sounding alarms over the potential for the Ford Plant site to destroy existing neighborhoods.

The next step is doing something to stop it.

What is truly needed is a “do-over.”

A process in which the people of the community that are most directly impacted by this site be given the opportunity to direct the conversation about what kind of development can and should take place on the Ford Plant site.

Not City Planners or politicians who have looked at this 135 acre site the way a kid looks at a candy store.

Pat Harris is right to speak out about the impact of density being created for the sake of density.

He is also right to make it clear that this isn’t some “Not In My Backyard” opposition from a handful of neighbors who live right next door to the Ford Plant site.

This is the concern of tens of thousands of residents – and voters – who live “…many, many blocks” away from the Ford Plant site.

Melvin Carter is drinking the Tolbert and Stark Kool-Aid which calls for making the Ford Plant site a playground for urban planners who envision a thriving community at the expense of the thriving community that already exists.

I have long believed that the first candidate who effectively calls on the City to abandon its current planning process and put the power of the future of the Ford Plant site firmly in the hands of neighborhood residents will win the 2017 Mayor’s race.

The first candidate that publicly states that current planning policy is an affront to the tens of thousands of residents – and voters – in Ward Three and Ward Four will be the next Mayor.

Not because speaking truth to the debacle that is the Ford Plant development scheme is good politics.

But, because it is simply the right thing to do.

And sometimes just doing the right thing is not just good politics.

It’s good policy.

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