In the days after St. Paul leaders approved a Ford site rezoning plan in one of the most contentious votes in recent memory, supporters and opponents can agree on one thing: This is just the beginning.
"This is not the end of the journey," Mayor Chris Coleman said as he signed the zoning and public realm ordinance, which provides a framework for buildings, roads and parkland. The full picture of what the site will become won't be clear until a developer buys the land and submits a master plan.
"There will be lots more conversations as the Ford site goes out for sale, as a developer comes in, as we continue to work with the community," Coleman said.
Some residents want conversations to restart soon — and would prefer the city to stay out of them.
The city's rezoning allows a developer to build housing for 4,320 to 7,200 people. People remain concerned about traffic, as well as pollution and taxpayer costs, said Erich Mische, a member of the opposition group Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul. He wants a third party to lead a community conversation to address those concerns.
"How do we make sure this project, before anything moves forward on it, is significantly modified in order to achieve the support of the neighborhood?" Mische said.
The group also has taken issue with the city's transparency during the planning process. It hired attorney Fritz Knaak, who said the group is carefully monitoring its options.
For weeks, red and green yard signs have staked out where Highland Park neighbors stand on the plan. The green "SAY YES" sign that Sam Wils stuck outside his townhouse, across the street from the ballfields on the Ford site, remained in place the day after the vote. Wils paused his gardening Thursday to look over at the site, where he said multistory development would grow the tax base and result in the city using less tax-increment financing.
John Halligan also contemplated the zoning plan that afternoon as he stood in front of his home a few blocks away. He remains mystified as to why some of his neighbors support it. The plan would compound traffic and create a "wall of apartments" that would be "aesthetically awful," he said.
The housing allowed at the site under the new zoning would range from small multiunit buildings and carriage houses by the Mississippi River to buildings with a mix of retail, office and multifamily housing by Finn Street. Those buildings at the site's eastern edge would be limited to six stories unless a developer adds more parkland; then it could build to 10 stories.
St. Paul leaders tweaked the housing requirements Wednesday to make more housing affordable for very low-income people. Ten percent of homes at the site would be affordable to people making 30 percent of the area median income or less, 5 percent to those making 50 percent or less and another 5 percent to those making 60 percent or less. The 2017 area median income is $90,400 for a family of four.
Jamie Callies, owner of Salon 760 down the street from the property, said that she can't afford a home in Highland Park and agrees that new housing needs to be priced for a variety of incomes. She and several other retailers said they are excited about the plan.
"It's 7,000 more people that will be supporting our community and our businesses," Callies said.
At Haskell's, a liquor store facing the site, assistant manager Terry Farrell has heard from neighbors on both sides.
"Any time you get urban renewal, you are going to have conflict," Farrell said.
But he said neighbors will have to wait a long time to discover the results of the zoning — development will take another decade or two.
Ford plans to start marketing the site next year and is still cleaning up the soil, Ford spokeswoman Dawn Booker said. "We look forward to working closely with potential developers, the city of St. Paul and the community on a successful and sustainable redevelopment of the property," she said.