The master plan for a new town center on one of the state’s major development sites was approved Tuesday, but not without dissent.
The Ramsey County Board voted 5-1 for a framework to create Rice Creek Commons in Arden Hills, on the 425-acre site of the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP).
The lone no vote came from Commissioner Janice Rettman, who described the plan so far as “disappointing.” It calls, she said, for 1,431 housing units, far fewer than some would like.
“This was a huge discussion in May and June,” she said, “making sure that there was housing development that would also create opportunities for transit.”
Rettman also was unhappy about a lack of insistence on living-wage jobs.
Commissioner Blake Huffman, one of those who negotiated the agreement, didn’t disagree with Rettman.
“Your points are valid,” he said. “We certainly wrestled with the city a lot over density. That was clearly the biggest sticking point.”
Commissioner Rafael Ortega, another member of a joint city-county body that will oversee the project, said the question of the number of units isn’t settled.
There are differing points of view, he said, and “the tiebreaker will be to put this before the development community, at which point both of us — city and county — will face the reality of what’s doable.”
The next step, this winter, will be to create a solicitation and collect responses for a master developer.
Ramsey County commissioners have spoken of 1,750 housing units, and another key document allows for as many as 2,500.
But Arden Hills is leery of anything too radically unsuburban, on a site that is also expected to provide thousands of new jobs as well as parks and trails.
Jill Hutmacher, Arden Hills’ community development director, has described the city’s goal as a “new kind of suburban environment,” without being one that feels disconnected from the rest of the city.
Huffman noted that most suburban developments have two to three housing units per acre, and that overall the Rice Creek plan is closer to nine.
“We hoped for more and I hope we can get it, but this is already a pretty good stretch for Arden Hills,” he said. “It will be fairly different from the rest of the suburban landscape.”