The St. Paul City Council decided Wednesday to limit the maximum height of some buildings that could be erected on the Ford site, but the move failed to satisfy residents worried by the prospect of 7,000 people being added to a compact neighborhood.
The changes, proposed by Council Member Chris Tolbert, scale down the heights of the tallest buildings that can go on the site from 110 feet to 75 feet — from 10 stories to six — unless the developer agrees to set aside even more green space in exchange.
Tolbert said he, like most area residents, favors a mixed-use plan of housing, retail, green space and shops for the old auto plant site. He said his amendment “makes the plan better. I think it makes it stronger.”
But for those worried about the scale of the development, Tolbert’s amendment offered no solutions.
“His proposal doesn’t really address anything,” said Char Mason, a Highland Park resident who lives just a couple blocks away from the site. “It does nothing to decrease the density.”
The site represents one of the most valuable redevelopment opportunities anywhere in the metro area — 122 acres set along the Mississippi River.
Weeks of social media debate and competing fliers among neighbors have shown wide differences of opinion over whether the proposed housing density, traffic volume and building heights will invigorate Highland Park and St. Paul — or create new congestion and other problems.
Tolbert said his amendment is only a step forward. There will be more for the City Council to do once a developer is chosen and actual building plans are created.
Ford, which still owns the property, is expected to put the site on the market this year or in early 2018, and the city expects development would occur over 15 to 20 years.
The master plan, set for a public hearing Sept. 20, divides the site into six districts with varied maximum heights.
The tallest buildings would be by other multistory residential complexes and a grocery store. Building heights would be smaller closer to the Mississippi River.
Tolbert’s amendments tweak the plan that was approved by the city Planning Commission in July. The City Council will vote on the full plan later this fall.
The plan that St. Paul staff arrived at has a mix of building uses and heights. It includes a street grid that would connect to surrounding roads and pockets of green space dotting the site, including a stormwater feature that resembles a creek and feeds Hidden Falls.
The group Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul argues that the city is pushing a plan to house up to 7,200 new residents without adequate parking capacity despite the neighborhood’s protests.
Other neighbors — who created their own group, Sustain Ward 3 — agree with the vision in the plan, which they said is an environmentally friendly design that will encourage transit use.
Mason said that Tolbert’s amendment does nothing to ease her opposition to the plan.
“The problem here is, he’s not addressing the No. 1 concern of all the neighbors, of everyone who is opposed to this plan,” she said. “And that’s all density and the impact of that on already overcrowded streets.”