The St. Paul City Council member whose ward includes the former Ford plant is getting behind site development plans that have some neighbors worrying about overcrowding, but tempered his support by pushing for lower building heights.
Neighborhood groups with varying views on the Ford site's future have jockeyed to make Council Member Chris Tolbert their ally as they try to influence redevelopment on the 122-acre property.
Critics argued that a proposed master plan's allowance for buildings of up to 10 stories would bring too many people and cars to the neighborhood, while plan supporters say buildings that size are needed to accommodate a growing city.
In publicly voicing his support for the master plan for the first time this week, Tolbert also offered an amendment he said would make development more balanced. It would reduce the maximum building height from 10 stories to six, unless a developer provides more green space than currently planned at the site.
"The real debate at the center of everything is: what is the right level of height? What is the right level of density? What is the traffic impacts of that?" Tolbert said. "I've been wrestling with this in my head for over six years now ... because this is a huge opportunity in the neighborhood."
The master plan, which the City Council will consider next month, divides the site into six districts with varied maximum heights. The tallest buildings, eight to 10 stories, would be located by other multistory residential complexes and a grocery store. Building heights would get smaller closer to the Mississippi River.
Tolbert will hold a community forum on the master plan and his amendment at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. His proposed amendment elicited a less-than-enthusiastic response from some community members.
"Really what he's doing there is simply endorsing the planning department's plan," said Charles Hathaway, with Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul. The community group opposes the master plan, which Hathaway called "grossly out of character with the existing neighborhood, both in form and substance and density."
Kyle Luebke is a member of the competing neighborhood organization, Sustain Ward 3, which supports the plan. He said Tolbert's amendment "is a good compromise."
The Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the plan on Sept. 20.