The Major Overhaul of New Hope City Center is Going to Cost You
by Jason Bradley
If you live in New Hope, have you seen the redevelopment plans unveiled last year for the City Center area? If not, boy, are you in for a surprise! Are you aware that $50,000 of our tax money was gifted by the Hennepin County Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) grant program to complete the study linked above? This 81 page document is the summation of their wild-eyed dreams for the area of New Hope that now houses the old K-Mart building, Lifetime Fitness, the municipal pool, and Mountain Mudd over by 42nd and Winnetka. If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you will see the same terms popping up like TOD, mixed use, sustainability, and so on. These buzz words indicate the influence of the Met Council to turn the entire Metro area into an endless landscape of similar high-density housing over ground floor businesses, caressed gently by bike paths and mass transitways, and it will strip any individuality or charm your city has left.
Am I being melodramatic? Maybe I am making a mountain out of a mole hill? I don’t think so. I see the same things happening city after city in an effort to not upset the Met Council. In fact, this document doesn’t even hide the fact that the Met Council has set certain standards for them. They decided to proudly publish their allegiance in the text.
The pages titled “City Center Vision and Goals” call for environmental sustainability, a mix of high density residential types, diverse business and commercial uses, green spaces, and an interconnected transit system. They go on to cite a survey from the National Association of Realtors that has some interesting findings. 87% of those polled cited “privacy from neighbors” as very important or somewhat important. 53% wanted to be “away from it all”, while 34% wanted to be at the “center of it all”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you have high density housing in the town center do you have more privacy, or less? Are you away from it all, or in the center of it all? Despite these facts, it goes on to state how important it is to promote walkability, because people from Generation Y (born in between 1980 and 2000) want to walk everywhere. Well, let’s make sure then, that we redevelop our communities based on the walking habits of all of the 12-18 year olds that will be renting an apartment or townhome. The rest of Generation Y (19-33 year olds) may enjoy walking places, but they are a small portion of the available population, and their tastes will change as they get older. Me, I’m not in Generation Y, and I don’t want to walk as many places as I used to. I like my privacy, and I’m still upset that Northwest Family Physicians and the City of Crystal turned my quiet neighborhood into commotion central without seeing how we felt about it first. I know, I’m sounding like the crabby “get off my lawn” guy, but these City Planners can’t seem to comprehend that most people in this immediate area aren’t looking to live in an urban environment, but a suburban one. The constant march toward urbanism is not why most people moved here. It was because we’re close to most things, but we don’t have to look at them.
The study also says that “the suburbs will have to evolve to be attractive to Gen Y”. Like I said, your tastes change as you age. You get away from the college dorms, start a family, and realize that you’d like things to be a little quieter, with a safe place for your children to play. More people in your family mean more groceries. It’s hard to walk home from the grocery store when you are feeding a family of four. It also says that master bedrooms should be moved to the first floor, so that the elderly can avoid the stairs as they age. You mean that they will be okay with avoiding the rest of their home, as stairs become a problem? Not likely, but that’s what’s being proposed. In fact, the study uses a measurement called the “Floor Area Ratio” (FAR). It states that the Met Council’s recommended standard for buildings in a town center is 0.5 FAR. What does that mean? One lot is equal to 1 FAR, as is a two story unit that takes up half of a lot. So for a 0.5 FAR, you could have a one story building on half of a lot, or a two story building on a quarter of a lot. By building vertically, you can fit more 0.5 FAR buildings into a smaller area. Its stated goal is to limit surface parking and encourage multi-story buildings. 30-50 units per acre are needed to make redevelopment economically viable, and Met Council standards are 15 units per acre, minimum, in order to get bus service. The Community Business district building maximum height is set at 48 feet, or 4 stories. The R-4 (or high density housing) outlined on the map has a maximum building height of 72 feet, or 6 stories. 6 stories! Can you think of any buildings in the area that are that tall? That sure seems like a major change to the look and feel of the city.
What else are they proposing? They outline Indoor recreation and social rooms, rooftop outdoor recreational facilities, and transit within 300 feet of an entrance. They also demand that non-residential buildings, street side, shall have a façade that includes clear glass and doors. Now New Hope is in the architecture business too. They go on to meticulously describe what is acceptable for an awning, balcony, façade, exterior materials, landscaping, parking, lighting, etc, etc. They also demand that businesses shall provide bicycle parking within view of each business front entrance (1 bicycle per 20 parking spaces or 2 total, whichever is greater). Want a fence? Too bad. “In no instance shall chain link, wood, vinyl or barbed wire fence be permitted.”
What we have here is a total redesign of the city center of New Hope. Did you hear about this? Well, it’s been approved by the Council! Do you have any idea how much this is going to cost you? Is it worth it to you to tear this area apart and build up to six story apartment buildings and up to four story commercial buildings? Do you like that the City can control the design of private businesses and residences? So much for private property rights. It fits right in line with the ICLEI (www.iclei.org) agenda, via the Met Council. Again, it’s the same concepts, same terms, same everything. If you want your city to have local control, instead of being designed from some group far away, then you had best elect people to your City Council that do not embrace this delegation of authority. Stand up, New Hope, and fight back!