The Boys Totem Town Work Group met on this date to continue learning so that we can have better information for the general public. As part of the discussion we reaffirmed the purpose of this work group: to build community locally, identify potential leaders for the future, provide background, and ultimately generate a proposal for a local vision. This does not replace the city process which will again engage neighbors and many others.
As yet there is no county decision on juvenile justice program needs, which will lead to city decisions on the BTT land – whether to retain all of it for current purposes, retain part of the land and sell some of it, or sell all of the land. Bill Dermody of the City of St. Paul's Planning and Economic Development said the county may not make these decisions until the end of the year. The city will not begin any process until those decisions are made. If there is a decision to sell, it is the city’s responsibility to determine what the zoning – possible uses of the land – will be.
We had two agenda items for this meeting: a presentation from Bill Dermody, and planning for the Peace Celebration effort to continue gathering input on Boys Totem Town from neighbors.
Bill explained that when the county makes its decision, the city planning commission will set up a task force to guide staff in developing recommendations for the site. The task force will be eight community members selected by planning commission chair Betsy Reveal. Many people will likely apply. This is NOT the same as the District 1 BTT Work Group. The whole process (which is unlikely to start before January 2018) is estimated to take 12 – 18 months.
The process will involve not just the task force but also the broader public – people who live nearby, other stakeholders, and Ramsey County, the latter remaining the landowner throughout. Ramsey County has committed that they will not sell the land until the city process is complete, although they are not required to wait by law. The broader public will be engaged, likely both early and late in the process, including via formal public hearings. At the end of the task force process, staff will have written a recommendation, which then goes to the planning commission for hearings, and after that (if approved or revised) to the city council for hearing.
In the task force process, staff will bring in technical information such as limitations for slope and wetlands. Bill’s rough estimate is that the steep slopes are the most significant factors, and that maybe one-fourth of the land is unbuildable for that reason – if there were a recommendation to build at all. The process could include a request to the city for funding, probably a few thousand dollars, to do a market analysis. For example, if there were a desire to build any kind of housing, is there a market for housing at that cost?
A zoning study could take place during the development of plan and recommendations, or after. Two points on zoning. One, Bill acknowledged and others present confirmed that although the Highwood Plan passed in 1993 and re-approved in 1999 has been superseded by other plans, there is still in current documents the key sentence we have learned about, a statement that if BTT ever closes, that the land should be held as “open space.” That does not mean, however, that the zoning could never change. These plans, in general, tend to change about every ten years.
Two, Bill said the current zoning status of Boys Totem Town is R4, which means in theory the county could sell the land to build single family homes on lots of about one-fourth of an acre – which Bill thinks could in theory be about 40 homes. No city action (zoning change) would be needed for that to happen. However, Bill believes the county will wait for the process to unfold, and he noted that city councilmember Jane Prince has been vocal that they need to hear from local residents.
What if potential developers contacted the city or county before the city task force begins work? Bill said they would probably be referred to the county – but the county would alert city and everyone if there were any “red flags” of possible uses that seemed in great conflict with the directions being expressed to date by neighbors and the work group and District 1. The BTT site will never be as attractive to developers as the Ford site was, with strong access to population center, transit, and other development.
We thank Bill for his great review of what the process is likely to be when and if the county makes the relevant decisions.
The group then made plans for gathering input at the EastSide Community Peace Celebration set for July 22, 3pm-7pm at Battle Creek Rec. This event is organized by Amin Omar and friends, not by District 1 – but Amin has agreed to let the BTT work group have a booth and undertake a survey there, to reach people we have not yet reached. For example, many young families may be there for the bounce houses and more. Volunteers from the work group will have maps of D1 and Totem Town and other materials. They will ask survey questions similar to what we have asked at previous community meetings, including “what is needed in your community”?
After the July 22nd event, many of us will participate in events like National Night Out and organize outreach efforts to gather more inputs. We will be planning another large community event focusing on Boys Totem Town for the fall.