Arden Hills city leaders are refusing Ramsey County’s demand to end a power-sharing agreement intended to guide development of the massive Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site.
In the latest in a series of heated letters exchanged between the two sides, Arden Hills leaders said they won’t consider dissolving the joint powers agreement until the Ramsey County Board votes to do so at a public meeting.
City leaders also accused the county of shutting down nearly all lines of communication about the future of the 427-acre former industrial site, now called Rice Creek Commons.
“The city of Arden Hills urges Ramsey County to stop trying to bully the taxpayers of Arden Hills and Ramsey County and come to the table,” Arden Hills Mayor David Grant said in a written statement.
But Ramsey County leaders were adamant Wednesday that the seven-year-old power-sharing agreement had failed. They accused Arden Hills of stalling the project.
“The county has a responsibility to taxpayers and the region to bring this project to life, and is disappointed in the lengths that it has to pursue to see it through,” Kari Collins, the county’s community and economic development director, said in a written statement.
She said the county was “exploring legal options.”
The joint powers agreement between Arden Hills and Ramsey County, dating back to 2012, has proven both productive and volatile. City leaders envisioned a spacious suburban community that mirrored the surrounding area, while county leaders pushed for a higher-density design with more affordable options.
A preliminary development plan approved by both city and county in 2016 called for a mix of offices, businesses and 1,460 housing units with 10 percent of them affordable.
But county officials, confronted with a ballooning regional housing shortage, now believe the project should include more housing with at least 20 percent of the units affordable.
Arden Hills leaders, fearful that the project could swamp the city financially, want to stick with the 2016 plan. Anything built on the site will need the city’s approval.
Ramsey County officials have said that dissolving the joint powers agreement means they can move forward this year with a more conventional development process, with the county and Minneapolis-based developer Alatus on one side of the table and Arden Hills officials on the other.
“Rash, impulsive actions are seldom free from unforeseen complications, and the city has no desire to make such a serious and long-lasting decision by your March 19th deadline,” wrote Arden Hills City Attorney Joel Jamnik in a letter dated Wednesday. “It is in the best interest of both parties for staff on either side to meet and discuss the current status of the project.”
Rice Creek Commons, which covers about the same area as downtown St. Paul, is considered the largest shovel-ready tract of land in Ramsey County. It’s an opportunity for the county to bolster its tax rolls and add some much-needed affordable housing, County Board Chairman Jim McDonough has said.
While the city and county agreed to share power, so far the county has carried the financial burden. The county bought the polluted land from the federal government in 2013 and did further clean-up to the tune of more than $40 million.
“Rice Creek Commons provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize 427 acres of long-dormant, industrial land into a vibrant community that will create jobs, housing and economic vitality for the Twin Cities,” Collins said.