Blog vs. slog – or, how to think about the new Land Development regulations

I have the 275 page draft of the new Land Development Regulations on my desk and I’ve been thinking about how best to read this tome, how (as the Planning Commission liaison) to provide some concise policy guidance to the Council, how to ensure the regulations really do further the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, and how to write about the regulations here.

Unfortunately, this is a crucially important issue which does not lend itself well to little bloggy bites, but requires rather slow slogging through the big issues and the small details.

My plan for my own review looks something like this:

  1. Identify new policy issues Council must consider (there are regulations for small wind turnbines in residential neighborhoods, and significant changes to the development review policy, for example).
  2. Compare key provisions to Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives
  3. Read for consistency and clarity
  4. Check development review process for simplicity and predictability.

Slow and steady – I’d love to have this ordinance in place with hare-like speed, but slower more careful work is needed.

Skateboards, continued

See if you can follow the skateboard issue around town: Park Board recommends Ames Park, Council asks for consideration of safety issues, Council gets update on safety and sends issue back to Park Board, Park Board holds meeting but no decision reached, Park Board will hold special meeting Tuesday, 4/21, Village on the Cannon will hold another meeting about skateboards and Riverside Park on Wednesday, 4/22…

I’m really bothered by the process.    I am confused about what is and what is not on the agenda and, if we attempt to act somewhere between starting the whole process over and accepting the Ames Park location, I do not know how we justify our starting place in a principled way.

I went and looked at the 2008 Parks, Open Space, and Trails System Plan adopted just last year which has been cited little if at all.

Section 3 Select Special-Use Facilities and Amenities begins with the Skateboard park and a comparison of the site opportunities/Benefits and Constraints/Limitations of Memorial Park (the overwhelming preference of the Skateboard Coalition – see Appendix B), Ames Park and Babcock Park – the 3 parks considered by the Park Board before recommending Ames.   Appendix A has a park by park summary of each park, its current amenities and future plans and the skateboard park is mentioned for Memorial Park and Ames Park.

The latest development is that the Park Board unanimously recommended Ames Park at their special meeting 4/21 (I couldn’t attend, but I understand it was a long one) and the issue (and the Park Board) will be back to the Council on Monday.

I did attend (along with Mayor Mary Rossing and Councilwoman Rhonda Pownell) a meeting held by and at the Village on the Cannon last night to hear residents’ concerns about putting the skate park in Riverside Park.    Village on the Cannon is an over-55 condominium development (only Phase I has been completed, so it could be about 2/3 larger at full build-out) and its neighbor is the Millstream Commons assisted living facility.  Residents spoke about being a vulnerable community and about small-scale terrorism by skateboarders on and around the Village on the Cannon property.    Although I had other reasons I thought Riverside Park wasn’t the best location, I hadn’t thought hard about the older and more vulnerable character of the neighborhood.  Certainly this is  another factor we should be considering when planning place-appropriate parks, but it makes the planning process more difficult when the park in question –Riverside Park– is a community park (larger, more widely used) and not a neighborhood park.

Skateboarder behavior is another persistent problem, but I am not sure that city government is the right entity to address this (although clearly we have the public safety and law enforcement responsibility) at least not alone.  Parents, community leaders, youth leaders, community service organizations – we need all of them to help teach our young people good public behavior (without taking all the fun out of it).   I’d suggest that the Skateboard Coalition needs not only to raise money, but also to help do public relations and education about the sport and its participants because I fear that the perception that skateboards and their riders are just bad news – bad for business, bad for property values and bad for Northfield – is a drag on efforts to create a skate plaza.

A small comment about Money: No matter where it is located or what the design may be, funding the facility is a potential limiting factor.    The City has a very tight budget and this affects all decisions about park development and all other expenses, capital and otherwise.  Money can be used as an excuse to veto the skateboard park for other reasons, but even those of us who support the skateboard park know that money is an issue and affects how much we can do and how fast we can do it.   The flip side is that we don’t know what the capital outlay will be until we make some other choices.

Preview of coming attractions

previewsignOn this week’s Council agenda there’s a little new stuff and a lot of old stuff.

Old stuff:

  • 2nd reading of wind turbine ordinance.  I’ve said enough about it here and here and here.
  • Approval of the final plat for Bridgewater commons: this property is on Highway 3 across from Target.  Three issues here:  access from Highway 3, a big tree, and a bike trail – more about this when I have the time.
  • 1st reading of the outdoor dining ordinance (to make it a permanent ordinance after last year’s 1 year trial – with a few modifications to the law).

New stuff:

  • Grace Whittier Grant recipients: The Grace Whittier Fund provides funding for programs providing recreational opportunities for youth and children.   I’m happy to report that the TOPSoccer program I posted about here, has been awarded $1000 toward establishing this program.
  • Babcock Park/Rodeo Ground truck parking discussion: You know, the parking lot just north of the new Culvers where the city lets trucks park?  We’ll be talking about this practice (not sure it rises to the level of policy) on Monday and whether some “higher and better” use of this area should be contemplated now.

Other new stuff not on the Council agenda: I’ve got the 275 pages of the new Land Development Code on my desk now.  I’ve been waiting a long time for this (8 years), so I’m both excited and apprehensive.  I’m thrilled there’s a draft and I’m worried that it’s going to need a lot of work.  Prior partial drafts did not inspire confidence, but I’m ready to dive in and make these regulations carry forward the goals of the Comprehensive Plan as clearly and forcefully as possible.