By Andrew Richter
Out in Oak Grove the Met Council has found a formidable opponent in Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin who is fighting their regional planning tooth and nail.
In Oak Grove, residents can have a slice of the country — acres of land between houses, room for horses and riding ATVs — just 30 miles from Minneapolis. That peaceful Anoka County setting is at the center of a battle over exurban sprawl and the power of the Metropolitan Council, a fight spilling into the State Capitol where lawmakers are pushing to roll back the regional planning agency’s authority. City leaders want more land made available for developing homes on 2½-acre lots, but the Met Council is enforcing a decade-old compromise that preserves rural land in a corner of the city until there’s demand for traditional suburban subdivisions.
“It’s like a cartel,” said Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin. “They’re dictating … with the belief that they know what’s best for growth patterns.” The battle pits the city’s vision of houses on large lots against regional planners’ desire to limit “unsustainable growth patterns.” The impassioned debate illustrates the Met Council’s daunting task of protecting rural land from sprawling development in a way that still gives cities enough flexibility to grow as they wish. And it comes amid renewed criticism, particularly among Republicans, that the appointed board has grown too powerful with too little accountability.
“I’m the speaker of the House. I can put it in a bill that makes it very difficult for the governor not to sign it — which is going to cause problems for the Met Council in other areas,” Daudt said.
Metropolitan Council plans have long aimed to preserve rural areas ringing the Twin Cities until there’s demand for development dense enough to cover a fair share of related regional infrastructure costs, from roads to sewer service. Sprawling development there could impede that growth in the future, the agency says. So the council works with cities on plans guiding the number of houses allowed per acre.
Met Council officials say housing policies are part of the reason wastewater treatment rates paid by metro residents are below the national average. But housing built on 1- to 2½-acre lots has nonetheless chewed up land in Oak Grove and other Anoka County cities like Andover and Ham Lake. Undeveloped and agricultural land fell from 83 percent of Oak Grove’s total acreage in 1990 to 68 percent in 2010.
“It’s inefficient and it throws costs onto the rest of the region that we all have to bear,” said Jim Erkel of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, noting the need to redesign roads for more traffic and bring sewer pipes to areas with failing septic tanks. “It almost always results in a demand for regional investments, but its density is too low to support them.”
Can you be anymore arrogant? In other words, the hell with what residents in these cities want, we should all just give up our freedom to the collective! Also why is it that these cities can’t take care of their own water? The Met Council is using water as an excuse to control local government.
It still feels like the country, though, amid the rolling cropland owned by Dory Smith, who has about 100 acres in the corner of Oak Grove with the special designation to remain more rural — no more than four homes per 40 acres. She’s interested in developing some housing, but she wouldn’t recoup enough with 10-acre lots. “This is sugar sand out here,” said Smith, a Realtor. “I need to put in a ton of money to get anything out of it. And I’m done doing that.”
Nearby, 72-year-old Everett Kalbow is the youngest of six siblings who own what was once the family farm. They’re trying to sell the land, but interested developers say the rural designation is a problem. “They couldn’t get enough parcels out of it to pay for all of the cost of putting in streets and so on,” Kalbow said. The conflict is yet another headache for the Met Council related to its $26 million East Bethel wastewater plant that went online just east of Oak Grove in 2014 — growth intended to help pay for it hasn’t yet materialized.
Before plans for the plant took shape in the mid-2000s, the Met Council had approved Oak Grove’s requests to carve up farmland and build houses on 2-acre lots. Once the city was earmarked for potential sewer service, however, the Met Council stopped granting the requests for large-lot housing because such development conflicted with long-term sewer system plans, including the plant, the agency said.
A 2007 compromise between Oak Grove and the Met Council allowed most of the city to continue growing with large lots, but preserved rural land in the southeast corner — an area with poor soils for septic systems.
The Met Council says it spent money based on that agreement, investing $3.5 million to make the sewer pipe larger for Oak Grove. But local leaders say the compromise didn’t feel like a choice — they needed Met Council approval of their plan for other development to continue — and the land shouldn’t be held back for growth decades from now.
“They have these delusional plans of maybe, possibly, in 2050 or 2060 or 2080 that there might be a need for three homes per acre? In the middle of nowhere? Does that make sense to you?” Korin asked.
When is it ever a compromise with the Met Council?
Council staff said current plans don’t include sewer service in the area before 2040, but that can change with the housing market. “If that development pattern takes 30 or 40 years to show some resurgence, there’s still an actual strong environmental argument for why we shouldn’t have wells and septic systems in that part of the region,” Duininck said.
An administrative law judge ruled against Oak Grove when the city challenged the Met Council’s plan last year. Korin said the city will submit plans reclassifying the land to the Met Council and is prepared to take the issue into district court if necessary. Lake Elmo took the Met Council all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court in the early 2000s in an unsuccessful fight over regional development plans.
The legislative measure’s chief author is freshman Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, who made Met Council reform a key issue in his 2016 campaign. “They want to tell everybody how to live their life or how they think people should live their lives,” Bahr said. “But not everybody fits into that mold. Some of us like to have a little more elbow room.”
Of course, Met Council elimination is the ultimate goal but Cal Bahr is still fighting the good fight. Mark Korin is also doing that and we need more mayors like him!
In this episode we discuss advisory boards and commissions. Cities, Counties, and School Boards all have them and it’s the easiest way to get involved in the governing process. Andrew and Jason explain what they are and what they do. They also discuss their importance, and how to get involved. If you are looking at ever running for office or just getting involved in your community, this is a great place to start. Let us know if we can help you get started.
In this episode we tackle the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB). What is it? What do they do? Might it go away soon? Is that a good thing? Jason and Andrew discuss the answer to all these questions and more. The CTIB has the ability to levy sales taxes and determine the type of transportation that will be focused on. Don’t worry, we’ve looked into it, and we’re going to tell you all about it!
What has ten parts, covers Minnesota, and ruins everybody’s fun? Give up? It’s MADO! What is MADO, you ask? It’s the Minnesota Association of Development Organizations! Now I know you’re all excited. You heard about the Northwest Regional Development Commission (NWRDC) in my last blog post. Well, that’s only one of ten regional planning organizations in this group. You can’t run, and you can’t hide. This organization covers all of Minnesota, except for a narrow strip from about St. Cloud to the southeastern corner of the state. A big chunk of that area is Met Council territory. You heard me right; the Met Council isn’t even included in these ten regional planning organizations.
Other than the aforementioned NWRDC, there are nine other groups, that combined, control the majority of Minnesota’s landscape. Just to the east of the NWRDC is the Headwaters Regional Development Commission (HRDC) based out of Bemidji, and then the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) is to the east of that, based out of Duluth. To the south of the NWRDC is the West Central Initiative (WCI) out of Fergus Falls. To the east of the WCI is the Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) based out of Staples, and to the east of that is the East Central Development Commission (ECRDC) based out of Mora. South of the WCI is the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission (UMVRDC) based out of Appleton, and to the east of that is the Mid-Minnesots Development Commission (MMDC) based out of Willmar. South of the UMVRDC is the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC) based out of Slayton, and lastly, to the east is the Region Nine Develpment Commission (R9DC) based out of Mankato. Is your head swimming? Good, because it should be! In fact, the map looks like this:
So, ten regional planning organizations all under one umbrella, being centrally planned. What can go wrong? I hope to look into and explore each of these organizations in the future, but first, let’s look into MADO. What is it? What does it do?
MADO’s purpose is to create economic development in greater Minnesota. It is a network of Regional Development Organizations (RDO’s), state and federal agencies, and communities. The various RDO’s are governed by a board of directors of elected officials and special interest groups. RDO’s were authorized by the Minnesota Legislature in 1969 (thanks, guys), and are designated by the United States Department of Commerce. There are federal funds in the form of grants at the very least. Some of the services they provide are: community development, comprehensive planning, grant writing, transportation planning, housing planning, emergency planning, and environmental planning.
MADO has constructed the Develop MN 2016 Plan (Comprehensive Development Strategy for Greater Minnesota). We will tear this plan apart in another blog article, but here’s what you need to know right now. MADO put this plan together to align greater MN under four priorities: Human Capital, Economic Competitiveness, Community Resources, and Foundational Assets. These are all designed to foster shared prosperity among the communities of greater Minnesota. They also talk about the need to have a strong and credible, collective voice. Collective? Shared? Those aren’t accidental words, and most hard-working folks in greater Minnesota would never anticipate their true origin. This is, however, all about an equalizing economic agenda. My friends, regional planning has run amok in Minnesota. It matters not where you go. You can not escape it. We will have more on this. You can be sure of that.
Jason Bradley is an entrepreneur in the music industry (Jason Bradley Live and Paper Lanterns Intl) and owns a consulting/advocacy/education firm that specializes in non-partisan politics (Community Solutions MN). Jason Bradley helps others to reach their goals in music and reduce the size and influence of government.
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In this new installment of the Community Solutions MN Radio Podcast, we discuss why we do what we do. We talk a little bit about what got us started, but we’ve told that story so many times. No, this is more about why it is so important to focus on local politics, despite the lack of attention it seems to get. We explain how our background gives a distinct advantage to anyone looking to get involved at this level of government. So take a listen, consider our ideas, and get in the game!
By Andrew Richter
Guess what is coming to Brooklyn Park!
The Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority unanimously voted to authorize staff to purchase surplus righ of way land leftover from Highway 610 construction. The parcel, at the northeast corner of the Highway 169 and 610 interchange, will be bought with the intention to sell it to Target Corporation for their north campus development.
The cost to purchase the approximately 23 acres of land will be $2.2 million. Currently, the land is owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Target has an existing development agreement with the city stipulating that Target has a right to buy this land from the development authority when MnDOT makes it available for purchase. Moreover, the agreement stipulates that if Target buys the land from the development authority, Target will purchase the land at the same price the authority paid, and cover all of the city’s out-of-pocket costs. Target will have 180 days to purchase the parcel from the development authority. If Target does not purchase the land within this period, the city can land bank the parcel until it is needed for the later development of the Oak Grove Parkway light rail station.
Jennifer Jordan, senior project manager for the city, said the costs to hold the land would be minimal, and would primarily be for mowing and potential waste removal. Target cannot purchase the land directly from MnDOT. Councilmember Mark Mata said the city should not mow the parcel if it purchases the land. The city should lease the land to a farmer until development, if possible, he said. Jordan said an MnDOT lease on the land with a farmer has expired, so the city could explore leasing the parcel to another farmer. Councilmember Bob Mata agreed with Mark, and said the city should lease the land to a farmer.
Funding for the parcel would come from tax increment funding, Jordan said. To her knowledge, after Target purchases the parcel from the city, the funding would be returned to the tax increment fund.
Did I ever express how much I hate TIF?
By the why does Target keep getting these little sweetheart deals?
2017 marks that time when all City Governments in the MN Metro need to review and rewrite their comprehensive plans. Andrew and Jason discuss all things comprehensive plans in this new installment of the Community Solutions MN Radio Podcast. What are they? What do they do? What aspects do they cover? What standards must be met? Answers to all these questions and more(like why you need to care and how to make your voice heard) exist in this episode. Watch it below: