After a decade of discussion, after years of meetings and hearings and yards filled with red and green protest signs, the St. Paul City Council next week is expected to vote on what the future will look like at the former Ford site in Highland Park.
Advocates for affordable housing, for green technologies and for a decreasing reliance on cars on Wednesday night urged the council to be bold, to be daring. In short, they asked council members to adhere to the master plan it established in 2017.
But those who favor the vision put forth by developer Ryan Cos. said they can back a plan that gets close to meeting the city's goals and that the developer can actually sell.
By the end of the hearing, it sounded as if the majority of council members were lining up behind a Ryan plan that would build 3,800 units of housing, including more than 700 units of affordable housing, while also building luxury homes along Mississippi River Boulevard and putting in more off-street parking for commercial and retail space.
Council Member Dai Thao has watched two Ryan projects rise in his ward. He said he trusts the developer to do the right thing.
"Right now, we have a housing shortage and we have limited resources around tax revenue," Thao said. "This isn't the time to delay this project."
Council Member Jane Prince said Ryan has worked diligently to win over neighbors who had been opposed to the city's housing density goals at Ford — while also getting very close to meeting them.
"To suggest this is anything other than our shared values is a mistake," Prince said to those inclined to think the Ryan plan doesn't go far enough.
On Wednesday night, the council held a public hearing to consider several amendments to the Ford site master plan that Ryan officials say they need to make the 122-acre development project successful.
It appears that will include 35 single-family homes that some called a "wealth zone" on the site's western border.
"Those single-family homes will essentially be mansions," said Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson, an advocate for renters. "We should talk about that."
Several champions of what they consider a bolder vision for the site lamented a bold opportunity lost by bowing to luxury homes along the river.
The city's master plan held the promise of something truly unique, said area resident Tom Bastion. "And in just a couple of months, we've rolled right over for a millionaire district and double parking."
For years, city leaders have craved a densely populated urban village that features housing, commercial and retail around inviting public spaces. What many have also demanded is a way to make a serious dent in the region's affordable housing shortage. Ryan's plan, working in concert with Project for Pride in Living, will do that, said Paul Williams, PPL's president and CEO.
Ryan's plan calls for 10 percent of the homes on the site being affordable to people making 30 percent of the area median income or less, 5 percent to those making 50 percent or less and 5 percent making 60 percent or less. The 2017 area median income is $90,400 for a family of four.
"This is one of the most broad-reaching projects we've seen in many years," Williams said.
But others urged the council to hold firm to its more ambitious goals that would make the site truly unique — instead of potentially creating wealth zones cut off from those of more modest means.
"We think modifying the site, allowing single-family homes and reduced commercial, runs the risk of creating an inequitable development," said Robert Wales of Sustain Ward 3.
Still to come are meetings to discuss how much, if any, public money should be part of the project. Ryan is asking for more than $107 million in public financing, money that would go toward infrastructure, green space and affordable housing.