Economically healthy Northfield – Current plans

Smart growth or sprawl?

My previous post on this topic imagined the qualities an economically healthy Northfield would possess.

Fortunately, it’s not just my imagination.

My vision started from the Smart Growth philosophy which is supported (to varying degrees) by Northfield’s planning documents.  Here’s a list of Smart Growth principles: (See also the  EPA‘s extensive resources or the NRDC)

  • Create a range of housing choices
  • Create walkable neighborhoods
  • Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration
  • Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  • Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective
  • Mix land uses
  • Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas
  • Provide a variety of transportation choices
  • Strengthen development towards existing communities
  • Take advantage of compact building design

Consider, then, Northfield’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan‘s land use principles:

  1. The small town character will be enhanced (strong sense of place).
  2. The natural environment will be protected, enhanced and better integrated in the community (preserve open space, etc.)
  3. The preference for accommodating future growth is in infill locations, then redevelopment opportunities, and then on the edge of existing developed areas (strengthen development towards existing communities).
  4. New and redeveloped residential communities (areas) will have strong neighborhood qualities.
  5. Environmentally-sensitive and sustainable practices will be integrated into new developments and redeveloped areas (Preserve open space, etc.).
  6. Places with a mix of uses that are distinctive and contribute to increasing the city’s overall vitality are preferred (Mix land uses).
  7. Neighborhood serving commercial will be small scale and integrated with the residential context (mix land uses).
  8. A wider range of housing choices will be encouraged – in the community as well as in neighborhoods (create a wider range of housing choices).
  9. Rural character of certain areas of the community will be protected.
  10. Streets will create an attractive public realm and be exceptional places for people (sense of place, walkable neighborhoods).
  11. Places will be better connected, in part to improve the function of the street network and also to better serve neighborhoods (walkable neighborhoods, variety of transportation choices).
  12. Opportunities will be created to walk and bike throughout the community (walkable neighborhoods, variety of transportation choices).

These land use principles are further articulated in the Comp Plan goals, objectives, and strategies (see the implementation matrix) and there are also objectives to “improve the development process” (Land Use objective 10) as well as several which point toward collaboration with stakeholders and neighboring jurisdictions.  The Comp Plan goals for economic development (Chapter 10) include revitalizing the Cannon River corridor to maintain Northfield’s historic character and incentivizing infill/redevelopment.  It’s a Smart Comp Plan.

But what about smart economic development in addition to smart land and community development?  Consider some of the ideas from the Local Government Commission’s Ahwahnee Principles for Smart Economic Development.

  1. Integrated approach: Government, business, education, and community members collaborate to create a healthy local economy
  2. Local focus: Existing businesses should be given top priority as the best source of business expansion, job creation and increasing the tax base
  3. Industry clusters: Capitalizing on clusters of related businesses which draw on local competitive advantages
  4. Wired communities: investing in technology that helps business succeed and improves access to information and resources.
  5. Long-term investment in community development: Economic development should be evaluated for its long-term impacts on a community, not short-term job or revenue gains.
  6. Making investments in social capital: For increasingly knowledge-based jobs, communities should invest in schools, libraries, life-long learning and training opportunities.
  7. Regional collaboration: industries, workforce, transportation networks, and natural resources are not contained by political boundaries; communities should cooperate regionally for shared success
  8. Restoring community centers: Maintaining urban centers – downtowns – by ensuring they provide local business serving local needs.
  9. Environmental quality: on the smart growth list
  10. Livable communities: Smart growth, see above
  11. Compact development: Another one from the smart growth list – guiding growth to existing communities already served by infrastructure minimizes economic, environmental and social costs and more efficiently uses resources and infrastructure.
  12. Sense of place: seen this already

Turning to the 2006 Comprehensive Economic Development Plan:

Opportunity 2 Maintaining Northfield’s quality of place.  This includes strategies such as maintaining and enhancing downtown, redeveloping the river corridor, mix uses, encouraging housing and increasing density downtown.   This Opportunity also includes forming (1) a retail working group with partners such as the Chamber, NDDC, colleges, local developers, and (2) a Rice County working group.  Clearly the Smart Growth ideas are embedded here, as well as policy direction toward collaboration among stakeholders, building on our existing assets, and moving toward a more integrated approach with local focus.  I’d put our recent discussions of community events funding here, too.

Opportunity 3 Attracting and retaining talent includes working with the colleges to recapture alumni and work with current students.  Housing – increasing the range of housing options – is also part of this opportunity partnering with employers and HRA.  Other collaborative strategies like working with the Latino community to foster small business development (think of the Council’s recent approval of participation in the LINK center) also fall under this opportunity, as would ensuring the success of our public library.  This is the opportunity for investing in human capital and our existing businesses.

Opportunity 1 Diversifying the economic base. Strategy 1A directs “make land available for business expansion” – that’s the “business park strategy” although the business park is far in excess of the recommended amount of land needed.  Although making land available is the highest priority of the plan, this recommendation is tempered by the recommendation of “no more than 120 acres” (the business park site is over 500 acres) to maintain Northfield’s character (see page 13 of the plan).  But this opportunity is also not limited to the business park – it also directs us to work on retaining/expanding existing business, investing in technology like broadband, and working to market Northfield regionally.

Other actions and policies: In June, the Council passed a resolution approving participation in the MN GreenStep Cities program (see the 28 Best Practices) which is a voluntary program where a city takes specific steps to carry out the best practices such as increasing density, mixing uses, multi-modal transportation, etc.

Bottom line: Northfield’s adopted policies support the Smart Growth vision of an economically healthy community which goes beyond jobs & tax base.  The Council must own these policies and use our 2011 work plan to take incremental steps toward making the policy reality.  Of course we’ll need help, since many of the smart ideas require meaningful collaboration and cooperation between the public and private sector, as well as neighboring jurisdictions.

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