The Arden Hills megaproject got the green light Tuesday from the Ramsey County Board, but not without a grilling over just how inclusive it will be in terms of housing.
"Affordability is a statement in this plan but it doesn't have any specific numbers," Commissioner Janice Rettman complained. "There's nothing substantive. It's called out but it isn't codified in any way, shape or form."
Her peers replied that mixed incomes remain a goal and the process isn't complete.
"We haven't had the 'subsidy' conversation," Commissioner Blake Huffman said. "But there will be apartments, townhouses, a variety of things, and the goal is that everyone who works in that area, whether barista or med-tech person, can live on-site.
The project now goes to the Metropolitan Council for ratification, and site work may begin in 2017, barring further complications.
The first phase has established that all sides agree on a basic framework, including the number of residential units — roughly 1,450 — and the layout of the area.
Arden Hills and the county are in a sometimes tense partnership mapping out the future of the 427-acre site, officially named Rice Creek Commons but better known as TCAAP since it was the site decades ago of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.
Developers for months have navigated a City Council seeking to assure constituents that the project would fit in a suburban landscape but divided over town-center urban densities, including apartments.
Ramsey County, with the deepest pockets on financing, has sought a more intense use of the site. In the end, though, commissioners said the county needed to reach a deal that the suburb could buy into.
"We will keep refining it," said Commissioner Rafael Ortega. "We want the community to accept and embrace this plan. ... It's a work in progress."
Thousands of people are expected to live in a development that combines an urban village feel with more conventional suburban-style neighborhoods.
Plans include stores, restaurants and office towers with freeway access. Ramsey Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt said she found the package "very, very exciting."
Rettman, the dissenter on the 6-1 board vote, said it concerned her that a rapid transit busway hadn't been clearly established as part of the overall package.
"I don't see that detailed as I think it should be," she said.
Ortega responded: "There's nothing there now. No density. First things first, second things second."
Huffman added that he sees a plan crafted with transit in mind.
"The developer will build the downtown, the central part, intentionally with increased density, and with a spot for the A line [rapid busway from Snelling Avenue and Rosedale].
"As soon as density gets there we will have transit happening," he said.