Over the July 4th weekend, several of my cohorts from the Wooddale Valley View Small Area Plan work group fielded phone calls from Concord and Pamela Park neighbors concerned about plans for a three-story, 13-unit development at 4404 Valley View Rd. – the former Burley’s Hair Salon site.
Alarmed by the excessive variances needed for height and setbacks, residents were dismayed to hear enthusiastic support from both the Planning Commission and City Council during the sketch plan review even though the project failed to adhere to the small area plan’s goals and policies.
Need we remind you?
The Comprehensive Plan identified several areas in Edina as “neighborhood nodes,” small, mixed commercial and residential areas anticipated to be areas of potential change. In 2014, the city initiated the first “small area plan” for the Wooddale and Valley View area. Praised as a blueprint for other small area plans, the nine-month process was complex and labor-intensive.
City administrators determined it was important to put guidelines and zoning limitations in place to control and steer future development. The introduction to the plan states, “The Wooddale Valley View Small Area Plan serves as an important tool for landowners, developers, city planners, city council members and planning commission members when evaluating future development projects. In addition, the Plan outlines specific action steps for the City and other stakeholders to support the long term vision for the area.”
Why don’t we get plan-compliant development?
For years, residents have expressed concerns about runaway development projects that alter the character of our community and exceed zoning limitations. Last year, the 2040 Comprehensive Plan (2018 update), with its included small area plans, was approved and accepted by the Metropolitan Council. Yet Planning Commission and City Council members continue to struggle with bloated, out-of-scale development proposals.
Too often, current zoning regulations are discarded by the city through variances, rezoning and comprehensive plan amendments. The following tools were produced with stakeholder input to guide new development: the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, small area plans for 44th & France, 50th & France, 70th & Cahill, and Wooddale & Valley View, the Greater Southdale District Plan, the Grandview Development Framework, and the strategic goals and objectives from the Vision Edina Strategic Vision and Framework (2015).
Commission and council comments and decisions should align with what is contained in these documents, and not be based upon personal preferences.
To ensure Edina’s future, uphold the small area plans.
We expect our appointed and elected city officials to do more of the following:
• Protect Edina’s neighborhood nodes. A bad project lasts decades and can erode the unique benefits neighborhood nodes offer our city. The city “should as a priority renew its broader land use plan. This plan should examine and consider the future broad fabric of the community, and begin to define key nodes of higher-density mixed use, and potential nodes of small-scale commercial opportunity, embedded in more of a neighborhood context,” according to the commercial development mix section of the city’s Vision Edina, 2015.
• Study ALL of the information in the small area plan prior to sketch plan review, not just the staff-provided excerpts. Become familiar with the small area plan’s intent. Come prepared to deliberate on behalf of the city and its residents in order to provide valid, realistic feedback to an applicant.
• Verify developer verbal claims. Don’t simply accept a developer’s references to market studies or generalizations about the small area plans – ask for a copy of the supporting data.
• Provide useful feedback during a sketch plan review based upon city code and guidelines, but without bargaining and encouragement, which results in a less-than-desirable application being submitted too soon with a time limit for approval.
• Say NO to non-compliant proposals with unreasonable requests. There’s nothing wrong with waiting for the best project to come along that will benefit our city for decades to come. Builders and developers still want to build in Edina.
Recently, Maya Moore, social activist and former professional basketball player, said on ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary, “There are multiple layers of responsibility and accountability that we all within our community hold, and we have to keep each other in check.”
Susan Lee, a former Edina Planning Commissioner and co-chair of the Wooddale/Valley View Small Area Plan; Connie Carrino, small area planning team member; and Jim Schedin, small area planning team member, contributed to this column.
Arlene Forrest is a former Edina Planning Commissioner and co-chair of the Wooddale/Valley View Small Area Plan.