Hillcrest’s master plan is pretty solid
If I was given over 100 acres of space to create whatever I wanted, it might not look exactly like Hillcrest’s master plan. But given a few key factors – who is responsible for shaping the plan, the location of the site, and the funding available – the plan is pretty solid. With the St. Paul Planning Commission due to hold a public hearing on the proposed master plan this week (and city council, presumably, will take formal action on the plan soon after), let’s dig a little deeper into how whose plan presents the lenses of housing, jobs and transportation.
Overall, this plan does not prioritize housing, but rather seeks to balance housing with jobs, succinctly described in the plan as “1,000 homes and 1,000 jobs”. That shouldn’t come as a shock, as the plan was coordinated by the St. Paul Port Authority, whose strongest skills are building short and wide rectangles that pay taxes and sometimes employ locals.
The good thing is that a moderate density is proposed at the north end of the site (the plan describes it as “high density” but I think we can withdraw the use of this label for 4-5 storey buildings n anytime now, please). I want the “medium density” orange-colored zone to be extended south to take over from the “low-density” cream-colored zone, but the zoning code shows – from my admittedly basic reading – that it There really isn’t much difference between their T1 and T2 Zoning in terms of scale. So really it would be nice if the “high density” area was expanded a bit further south.
Quotes from members of the Hillcrest Advisory Committee suggested that the idea of the ‘low density’ area is not for townhouses or townhouses as the planning document suggests, but for homes single family. For a gentle reminder, the vast the majority of the surrounding land (and really all of St Paul) is single family homes. I understand that new single family homes would provide an option that may not exist in this particular neighborhood. But single-family homes are basically [gestures generally in every direction]. In short, when you’re building from scratch, you shouldn’t lose that opportunity. When a single-family house here and there has to be demolished because it is unsafe, it gives the opportunity to build a new single-family house. This may not be a common occurrence, but it is certainly more common than more than 100 acres available at one time. We should use these great opportunities to do great things.
I should also clarify that I will not dwell much on housing affordability because there are frankly too many factors at play that are not dictated by the plan itself. But I’ll note that the memo and staff plan talk about targets for “affordable rental housing for households earning at least 30% Regional Median Income (AMI) and up to 60% AMI, as well as affordable home ownership opportunities available to households earning at or below 60% AMI and up to 80% AMI. Creating truly affordable homes for people to rent and own can be absurdly expensive, but it’s also an absolute necessity. We will therefore see which financing tools will be used to achieve these affordability objectives.
The jobs are good. People getting jobs, that’s a good thing. And, usually, places that create jobs also pay local property taxes, which is also a good thing. Overall, the “1000 jobs” part of the plan’s subtitle should probably be considered generally good. As mentioned earlier, this should also come as no shock given who was leading the planning process: the St. Paul Port Authority. In general, I think building a few concrete rectangles on this site that pay fairly large property taxes and hire a significant number of people will be beneficial – although that’s not how I personally would run a site large enough to really be an entire neighborhood. But if we are going to build large rectangles, here are two very basic things that we have to guarantee: local hiring and clean energy on site.
If you’ve spent any time reading media coverage of the St. Paul Port Authority’s work or seen them present to city council, you’ve probably heard them talk about how their projects are creating jobs and increasing the tax base. They also do good work in energy efficiency, environmental cleanup, public art, etc., but the core of their work can be safely described as creating jobs and increasing of the tax base. While increasing the tax base is pretty straightforward (building a new thing that pays more tax than what was there before), job creation should really be approached with a bit more nuance.
According to their own report, the St. Paul Port Authority is generally pretty bad at creating jobs for the inhabitants of St Paul. Of the employees at their eight projects on the east side of St. Paul (zip codes 55130, 55106, 55199), approximately 29% were St. Paul residents and 13% were East Siders. It makes it seem like they have to be actively doing things wrong to get such low numbers. And again, broadening the tax base is good. Creating jobs is good. And not everyone needs to work where they live. I know all these things. But a St. Paul taxpayer-funded entity should create jobs that support St. Paul families. Especially if this site is going to sacrifice homes that we know would benefit families in St. Paul, we should at least have some pretty strict guidelines in place to ensure that the job-creating buildings that replace those notional homes can also benefit to the families of St. Paul.
In terms of clean energy, the port actually has a long history of running what is almost certainly Minnesota’s most successful clean energy funding program (Property Assessed Clean Energy), so they certainly have the chops to make sure the site is as efficient as possible. In terms of clean on-site energy like solar power, however, their track record is quite mixed. Now, it’s true that not all roofs are designed to allow for a large solar array (due to weight, electrical connections, shading, etc.). But when you’re building something from the ground up with virtually no nearby shading, there’s no excuse your building isn’t solar-ready. Considering how much you can save financially by using solar power, this beautiful large solar ready roof should be filled with panels as shown in the third roof chart below. When these buildings go up, not only do they need solar power, but they need ALL solar power. Google Maps satellite view will keep an eye on you, Port!
Like the plan as a whole, the transportation framework should be analyzed with a few caveats in mind. If the site is going to have – as I said – very large rectangles, members of the public might not be able to cycle and walk directly through those private rectangles. So this section will only talk about how the routes that exist on the page could be improved for all modes.
Firstly, in general, although the advisory committee praised the plan because it “has thoughtful transport links to the west, with jogs to Howard Street to discourage through traffic through the site”, I think that Note what an opposite strategy would look like. . Creating jogs or fewer ways to cross the site can also concentrate car and truck traffic on fewer streets, making those routes even less user-friendly. I sometimes default to a “more routes is better” mentality where you improve safety through the design of the route itself (sidewalk separation, shorter pedestrian crossings, etc.) but I understand wanting to discourage dangerous driving, although the methods may differ.
Then the best thing about the transport section is that some parts seem to do it really well. If only these design elements were carried over into Continued routes, I think you’ve come to a good place. For example, some of the streets in each category offer separate routes for cyclists and pedestrians. But for some reason – perhaps a right of way constraint? – these treatments are not carried over to the rest of the routes. That leaves the kind of gaps that cyclists and pedestrians are used to seeing all over the city as our transportation network is updated, but those really have no place in a plan that leaves from zero. For example, perhaps the coolest hookup near the Hillcrest site is the Furness Parkway Trail. But the plan would force people to use just one connection point rather than just hauling the trail treatment through multiple east-west connections, making the whole site feel like a bike ride. / on foot / rolling towards this great asset. Adjusting the map to make east-west connections the norm, rather than a single route option, would help make it look more like a traditional street grid. Improving these east-west links was also the focus of the Planning Commission’s transport committee last month, so improvements should perhaps be expected.
Another design element that made me smile is the swapping of a sidewalk for a multi-use path. Although I think almost every route option on this site and in St. Paul could afford to remove a parking lane and use that space for a pathway in addition to the standard sidewalks on either side of the street, a multi-use pathway can sometimes be the best thing to do. If they really can’t stand the idea of removing the parking lot, I really believe the option of expanding a sidewalk into a 10-12 foot multi-use trail (think Lexington Ave north of Minnehaha in the northeast of Midway, shown below) should be considered on any collector, arterial, or even moderately traveled pedestrian, wheeled, or cycled route.
To take away
Review the documents on the Hillcrest Master Plan website
Contact the town hall to share your thoughts!