St. Paul residents who ventured out early Friday to comment on the city’s vision for its future said they’d like to see more ambitious policies around housing density, transportation and racial and socioeconomic disparities.
The capital city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan got its first public hearing before the Planning Commission on Friday morning after years of work by city staff. The dozen speakers were largely in agreement about wanting a plan more akin to the aggressive affordable housing and upzoning policies that the Minneapolis City Council approved in its comprehensive plan last month.
“St. Paul could have the accolades of the country by doing the same thing,” said Jake Reilly, a Payne-Phalen resident and former St. Paul city planner.
Comprehensive plans outline how cities will grow and develop over time, and local governments update and submit their plans to the Metropolitan Council every 10 years. Though St. Paul’s proposed plan is more measured than its Minneapolis counterpart, it calls for increased density at “neighborhood nodes” across the city.
Though most of the people who spoke Friday said they support the draft plan, many said they want it to focus more on issues like climate change, affordable housing and parks.
“We applaud the forward-looking and really progressive nature of this plan — it’s better than any one I’ve seen,” said Michael Russelle, St. Anthony Park Community Council co-chairman, before adding that he would like the plan to focus more on reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change.
“In 20 years, this will be a different place,” he said.
Shirley Erstad, executive director of Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County and a former City Council candidate, said the plan should do more to protect city parkland and ensure parks are accessible to all residents.
“This is a public parks system, and all components of the system need to continue to be widely available to public use,” she said.
Hamline-Midway resident Zack Mensinger, like others who spoke, said the plan should include more neighborhood nodes at major intersections and along transit routes and also should eliminate city parking minimums.
“We have a glut of parking,” he said. “Parking is an extremely inefficient use of land in a city.”
At least one attendee had concerns about how the plan might affect the city’s historic areas.
“I understand the desire to increase the opportunities for housing,” said Tom Darling, a member of the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association who said he was speaking as an individual. “I do worry that we may throw the baby out with the bath water and we may lose the things that make St. Paul special if we aren’t very, very careful.”
St. Paul released a draft version of the comprehensive plan for public comment in November, and it will remain open for comment through Monday. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the draft in June before adopting a final version to submit to the Met Council.
Terri Thao, a former planning commissioner and City Council candidate in the Sixth Ward, said she’s looking forward to seeing how the plan incorporates residents’ ideas.
“I get really excited when I think of what the city of St. Paul is going to look like,” she said.