Park Board OKs plan for developers to grow green

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August 2, 2010
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
// The City Council will decide later this summer whether to go along with the plan, which would require developers to contribute land or cash for new parks //

A long-delayed ordinance proposal that stalled more than a year ago when the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and City Council were at odds over the board’s existence is back, retooled and seemingly on its way toward enactment.

With some exceptions, the ordinance would require developers to create parks on new project sites or pay a fee for the creation or enhancement of nearby green space. The ordinance, similar to those used in many metro-area suburbs to develop new parkland, is meant to help the financially strapped Park Board meet the outdoor needs of the city’s population as it grows.

The city projects the addition of 26,350 new households by 2030, creating a demand for and additional 263 acres of park space.

“If you put in a 100-unit condo, those people are all going to have some expectation of park services,” said Park Board President John Erwin. “And Minneapolis has a long tradition of making sure people have access to park services.”

The Park Board passed the ordinance July 7 after Erwin and at-large commissioner Bob Fine negotiated the language with council members Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Barbara Johnson (4th Ward). The City Council has to approve the same language to seal the deal and is expected to vote in September, assuming the ordinance winds its way through Planning Commission and council committee meetings on schedule. Both the council and Park Board see the ordinance’s resurrection and progress as a sign of a healing relationship.

“I think this is a good indication that the city and the Park Board want to work together more closely,” said Erwin, who has made building alliances with local government a priority since taking office in January.

The ordinance as approved by the Park Board is a compromise for both the board and city, he said. It’s complex, but would essentially function like this:

Any developer requesting a permit for a project that would bring more residents or jobs to the city would be required to dedicate a “reasonable portion” of land for a public park, playground, recreational facility, wetlands, trails or open space. City staff would consult with the Park Board superintendent or designee on park plans, which the board could decline in lieu of a fee. The annually adjusted fee would start at $1,500 per residential unit and $200 or less per employee.

Fee collections would be placed in a special Park Board-managed fund and used solely for the acquisition, development and improvement of green space and park connections within the neighborhood the development is in or an adjacent neighborhood within a half-mile radius.   

“The challenge is we are in very difficult financial times and any additional costs you want to make sure that they’re not so great that they would limit any new development,” Erwin said. “But the Park Board wanted to make sure that the support was enough that they could actually do something.”

Developers of affordable housing projects would be exempt from the ordinance, a provision Goodman was adamant about. She actually refused to participate in any negotiations on the ordinance unless that was part of the deal.

“I am very sensitive to the fact that building affordable housing is both extremely time consuming and expensive in terms of accumulating all of the different private and public sources,” she said. “And adding yet another large fee to an affordable housing project would just increase the subsidy needed.”

Goodman staunchly opposed the ordinance when it was initially proposed several years ago with a much higher fee, no exemption for affordable housing and no restrictions tying the fee to new or expanded parks. Making sure the money collected from fees stays tied to the area it came from is still one of her big concerns.

She said the ordinance is the Park Board’s prerogative, but there are parts of town, such as industrial property along the upper riverfront, that could benefit from more park infrastructure.

Developers haven’t weighed in much on the ordinance, but a public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 2 before the Planning Commission.

After briefly reviewing the plan, Southwest developer Stuart Ackerberg, CEO of The Ackerberg Group, said it would just add something new to the game of development.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Ackerberg said. “I think it really promotes cooperation between the city and the Park Board, and the community and development. I think it’s critical that people are working together on those types of issues.”

He said it would be nearly impossible to add green space at some sites surrounded by urban infrastructure, but the ordinance would force developers to get creative about integrating community-oriented spaces, something he already tries to do.

“The environment around our buildings is as critical as the building themselves,” he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.