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Poll: Does The City Know What It's Doing With Housing?

A planning commissioner recently said he thought the city was "guessing" when it came to housing.

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Since the approval of the City of Richfield's most recent comprehensive plan, a number of redevelopment projects have come across the desks of city staff and officials—many with housing components.

According to the city's website, the comprehensive plan aims to provide a long-term vision for the city and act as a guide for officials to make decisions regarding land use, parks, transportation and so on. State law requires cities to complete a new plan at least every 10 years.

At for the proposed Pillsbury Commons facility was meant to help commissioners gather input and decide whether the project would adhere to city ordinances as well as match-up with the comprehensive plan.

While resident and commissioner opinions varied, Commissioner Tom Rublein made some interesting comments in order to "address some elephants in the room." With the Metropolitan Council requiring the city to add hundreds of new affordable housing units in the next decade or so, Richfield's short land supply and conflicting reports of how the housing market is doing, Rublein said:

"Where was everybody when the comp plan was put together? This designation [for rezoning to medium- to high-density] has been in the comp plan for quite some time for the city garage. Where have people been? ... People are not paying attention to this stuff. So now we come to this proposal, and Ron Clark has put a lot of work into this, I commend him for that. ... But we really haven't discussed what our housing policy is. We've got a new Stantec report and we're rushing to say. 'Oh gosh, we can justify this rental housing by this .' And I don't really think we're thinking deep enough into this. The concentration of affordable housing alone for me, in this area, ... is something that causes me grave concern, that we're really not sure what we're doing. ... We're guessing."

Now, Pillsbury Commons is one of a three proposed and pending projects ( and ) planning to add to the Richfield housing stock in the next few years. And the city recently commissioned a rental housing study from Stantec to get more information on the city's needs.

Do you feel the city and its officials know what their doing with housing? Cast your vote in the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section.

A video of the planning commission meeting has been added to this article. Rublein's comments begin at about the 3 hour mark.

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See our "Pillsbury Commons" topic page for more articles on the project.

See our "Richfield Redevelopment" topic page for more redevelopment news.

Barry L. June 05, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Kent, you are so right. If only the city resident took one hard look of what the city elected and commissioners are doing they too would go home and bang their head against the wall to remember who voted for this bad policy...Thank you Kent!
Ghislaine Ball June 05, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Personally - I believe that the best solution for everyone is somewhere in the middle - areas that are heavily segregated both economically and racially need to be part of regional planning. If wealthier communities want to opt-out - then they'll need to incent their workers with a higher wage to compensate for the travel - I don't see a lot of small businesses embracing this kind of unrestricted competition - so they could/should/would in-turn pressure the city to build affordable housing in the area - but the flip side of that is that poor communities such as ours need to restrict developments that will reinforce the 'status quo'). The fact that the one development in Edina that supports affordable housing for young families is strategically positioned in the Richfield school district completely enrages me.
Ghislaine Ball June 05, 2012 at 08:53 PM
For now BB is paying about $7 million/year in taxes but I don't know what the TIF breakdown is or if that number is even correct - wouldn't it be super if all of this information about financial costs were supplied up front so that everyone could make an informed decision?!
David Haines June 06, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Oh that would be such a great spot for a bike path!!!!!!
Kent June 06, 2012 at 02:46 AM
I wanted to follow up on my previous response and to add an additional question. Does the leadership in Richfield know what they are doing with anything? Earlier this year I attended a city council meeting to discuss the skate park and where it should be located. Despite agreement that Augsburg park did not meet the criteria they set they decided to send it for a bid anyway. They stated they HAD to place it on the basketball location to save money on concrete. Now it is my understanding that they not only passed it but greatly increased its size and cost. Amazing that Richfield can suddenly take our basketball court and now the younger kids side of the sliding hill in 1 fell swoop. To heck with the citizens and their opinions and tax money. Is there anyone out there as frustrated as me?
Barry L. June 06, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Is there anyone out there as frustrated as me? yes I am for one, please tell your neighbors, tell 5 PEOPLE to come to Richfield City Council chambers and speak up on June 12th.@7 PM.We have elected officials that dont understand about peoples rage of what is going on. I am door knocking across the city and the most common response you get is" Dose the city real care about my voice" You have to show up and say it loud..
Matt June 06, 2012 at 03:23 PM
(1 of 2) Richfield residents, if I could offer an outsider's perspective and respond to some comments. R.C.U. are right to question all these giveaways to the developer. TIF districts are frequently overused, but if the alternative is letting the property sit vacant for another 10-20 years, you can see how elected officials are in a bind. You are also right to question Met Council's affordable housing demands for Richfield, when neighboring cities seem to dodge these quotas. Richfield's stock of older, smaller houses provides some of the most affordable owner-occupied housing opportunities in the metro. You shouldn't be strong-armed into more subsidized rental facilities. Specifically I'd like to respond to comments like "I would love Richfield to take a few lessons from Edina" and the desire to expand Richfield's tax base. (continued...)
Matt June 06, 2012 at 03:36 PM
(2 of 2) As a former suburbanite (Woodbury), current Uptown resident and Urban Studies scholar at the U of M, my opinions are as follows. Honestly, the future looks kind of bleak for Richfield as a stand alone community. The city is small geographically, and is surrounded by Edina and Bloomington, which both have extensive commercial-industrial-retail areas. To say "Richfield should follow Edina's business plan" is simply unrealistic. The two cities have entirely different housing stock, and unfortunately for Richfield, Edina built up its commercial area right on your shared border. What is Richfield to do, tear out housing and build competing commercial districts? I don't think that would be very wise. Honestly, I think the best long-term option for Richfield is to merge with a neighboring community. Either Edina, Bloomington, or Minneapolis and it really doesn't matter which. Richfield, due to its tight borders and smallish 1945 2BR houses, simply drew the regional short straw. It stinks, but it's the truth. Richfield is darn lucky that our legislature passed the 'Fiscal Disparities' act in the 1970s. For those unfamiliar, all cities in the metro essentially pool and share 40% of their Commercial-Industrial tax base GROWTH since the date the act took effect. Unfortunately your neighbors, especially Bloomington, are tired of sharing and want to change or end the program. Merging with either Minneapolis or Bloomington would be a win-win for Richfield, in my view.
Matt June 06, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Epilogue (sorry!) A combined Minneapolis-Richfield would push the city's population to 417,806 and make it abundantly clear that Minneapolis is the larger of the "Twin" Cities and hopefully quiet the constant cries for 'equity' from the east side of the river. Richfield's 3 city council ward boundaries would make very nice neighborhoods within the city of Minneapolis. Some of the far-south MPLS neighborhoods (Kenny, Armatage) that border Richfield are becoming very desirable, with many young families moving in, improving schools and investments into housing. There is a huge movement among Gen-Y'ers back to the center city (rather than far-flung suburbs/exurbs) and Richfield should be part of that movement. Richfield shares the same street grid network as MPLS, it belongs in the city! Furthermore, this merger could serve as an example to the region for other small suburbs that could & should merge (Crystal & New Hope, Maplewood & N. St. Paul, the Brooklyns, etc). Or you could merge with Bloomington if that is more desirable, but do remember that both communities have to sign off on a merger.
Ghislaine Ball June 06, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Hi Matt, Really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Wanted to weigh-in on one thing - there are other parties actively interested in the property plus a handful who are more casually interested. Even if everything fell through there are a small group of us who are willing to volunteer our time to clean it up and turn it into either a community garden or a dog-park so that it can serve as an asset to the community until that time that an appropriate use is found. Beyond that, I agree that trying to turn Richfield into the economic driver that Edina is is unrealistic but with the cost of real estate as obscenely low as it is and young professionals starting to move in - all we need are some amenities to make it more attractive - sidewalks, a couple of NiceRide stands, more upscale shops, better restaurants - a beer bar (or four)!!!! Little pockets of shops that are within walking distance.
Ghislaine Ball June 06, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Ok - so I'm kind of on a tear now. The houses are incredibly well built and easy to add on to, the yards are killer for anyone with gardening tendencies, we're right next to the airport but very little air traffic and it's a 20 min bus ride right into downtown. It's also one of, if not the most integrated city in the metro (all of these things being huge asset for both Xers and Ys although that seems to be a very difficult thing for the over 50 crowd to process). I really feel like we're at a turning point - it could go either way. Some folks are saying that Pillsbury Commons is "just 70 units" but it's so much more than that - it's the place where the community has drawn it's line in the sand and we're saying 'no more' - we see the direction that the city is headed and we're not going to take another step in that direction - it doesn't end well. Despite all of our complaining, at the moment the city is actually in decent financial shape (the books are balanced and as far as I can see the school is the area most in need of an influx of cash). We just need to curb the grasping long enough to organically grow the area on our own.
Barry L. June 06, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Matt, Why dont you move to Richfield and run for office as you can see we have some people that need ousting...http://www.independenceminnesota.org/blog/posts/15-posts/534-5th-cd-endorses-matt-brillhart
Joe Hoover June 06, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I would tend to agree with you that merging smaller governmental units would be a smart strategy. However, getting people to work regionally is a Herculean task that even seasoned politicians fail to achieve. Not that it shouldn't continue be tried, it is just an uphill battle. I have long been a proponent to merge the Edina and Richfield school districts since both are small but they would be a decent size if combined. However, I very much doubt that Edina, which has gone to the level of building its income restricted housing in the Richfield school district (Yorktown Homes) so that the Edina school system would not have to educate their kids, would even consider such a deal.
Sean Hayford Oleary June 06, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Though this strays from the original thread topic, I do agree with Matt that Richfield should seriously consider merging with Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I think a lot of what repels younger folks is simply that it is not Minneapolis. Richfield has done a pretty good job looking out for its financial well-being as a municipality, but it hasn't done much (except maybe the Cedar Point development) to make itself more attractive to a younger demographic. The municipality may be okay, but the community still needs young people to move in. It would, as Matt noted, be an appropriate scale for form three Minneapolis neighborhoods. Since schools are separately governed, there is no reason why the school districts would have to merge at this time. At the very least, Richfield would do well to start focusing on the things that make Minneapolis attractive (rather than the things that make south Edina attractive). This means, for example, sidewalks on both sides of every new street and major streets as community centers rather than 35-40 mph drag strips. It also means neighborhood commercial nodes, and -- appropriately -- it means mixing of density. So perhaps Pillsbury Commons is a good start!
Ghislaine Ball June 06, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Yeah but you can't put a high-density, 100% income-restricted project in the middle of a community that's already about 95% affordable - there's no economic diversity here and that's not a healthy recipe.
Sean Hayford Oleary June 06, 2012 at 08:45 PM
But look at the site! It's next to railroad tracks and a high-speed road, currently an industrial use. You're not exactly going to get luxury condos there. It would be one thing if we were losing existing housing for this -- but we're not. "High-density, income-restricted"... come on, this isn't Riverside Plaza.
Ghislaine Ball June 06, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I don't hold any illusions that this should be 'luxury' anything. But we could look at putting in some shops that could raise the appeal of the neighborhood as a walk-able community - it doesn't have to be housing.
Sean Hayford Oleary June 06, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I'd be on-board with that too, but right now, the city has a developer ready to build this residential. The form of what he's proposing honestly seems a lot more attractive and neighborhood-appropriate than some of the recent non-subsidized housing (*cough* City Bella). I think it's unfair to refuse a basically good project just because it's publicly supported (both as subsidized housing and by the city's TIF).
Ghislaine Ball June 06, 2012 at 09:04 PM
we also don't have to look at this as a whole block. Two weeks ago the HRA sold four lots that had been on the books forever to small developers who will be building single family houses. We could put three or four homes on the Gleeson's mortuary and then have the south half as a mixed use restaurant/shop/neighborhood bar (we REALLY need one of those - especially if they have a nice beer and wine selection).
Ghislaine Ball June 06, 2012 at 09:11 PM
The publicly supported aspect is a line item on a list of reasons why this is a bad project. Personally I'm thrilled that the city gave TIF funding to Lyndale Plaza, Best Buy, Kensington and Pizza Luce - because those developments do and will serve to raise the profile of the city - this project is just a hot mess on many levels.
David Haines June 06, 2012 at 09:13 PM
A nice neighborhood brew pub to walk to would be nice. :) The land is a gold mine. As already mentioned, being close to an international airport, world class shopping, 2 major interstate freeways, both downtown Minneapolis and St.Paul I don't think we need to give away the farm to get someone to buy it. If that rail ever goes to a greenway even more so. This is the first time I have heard that possibility and I'm a very curious!
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Just a thought, but if Richfield were to merge with Minneapolis or Bloomington, do you really think this would solve the housing problem? What would stop Minneapolis or Bloomington councils from deciding to use Richfield as its "affordable" housing section. Nothing is my guess. Richfield, although small in size, functions fine on its own in my opinion. Obviously we have issues like each city and I totally agree we need to attract more young people. Richfield has long maintained that it is a life-cycle community, but we need that to keep going. As far as the school district goes, its unfortunate to see it struggling. It wasn't always like this and it could get better. And I won't speculate on exactly what is needed, since I'm not an expert in that area. Any of these problems we're facing aren't going to disappear and it isn't the sole responsibility of the council or other city officials. Taking pride and supporting every aspect (schools, businesses, neighbors) in our community is necessary. Movements start at the hyper-local level. Alright, two cents!
Matt June 06, 2012 at 09:41 PM
My comments about merging municipalities were more so directed at the comments regarding growing Richfield's tax base and less about the siting of affordable housing. I really wanted to drive home the point of how difficult it will be to expand the tax base with Edina & Bloomington's major commercial areas along Richfield's borders. That school district stuff is really perplexing. The fact that Edina put their affordable housing in the tiny portion of their city that is in the Richfield School District is just...wow, unbelievable. School district boundaries seem downright impossible to change, even as communities evolve, age, de-age, etc. School district boundaries might have to be something that the county board has a role in administrating (RE: Commissioner Mike Opat's recent comments about expanding the county's role in education). I loved Sean's comment about sidewalks and 35-40MPH roads. You nailed it brother! Sidewalks need to be on both sides of every street. Fight against road widening, keep things at a pedestrian scale! Richfield is already completely surrounded by highways, you certainly shouldn't have them blasting through your community as well. Keep on eye on Hennepin County on this one when time comes to re-do Penn, Lyndale, or Nicollet...those traffic engineers love to expand, expand, expand.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 09:58 PM
That totally makes sense Matt. I was pulling out the housing element since, after all, that's what this post started as. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.
Barry L. June 06, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Sean comments about side walks and bike lanes are great, But I really think he needs to study up on Section 42 housing, If he were to visit the site and see for him self how out of place that would be for a for warehousing over 350 people. If Sean could only read the part that Ron Clark is walking away with over $700 in gross profit each year while paying next to nothing in taxes to the school district. The block he is referring to is the same as the size between 75th and 76th and the houses pay about $2400 each year. The Pillsbury commons will not even pay that, they will pay $4000.00, for 30 years. So when you do the math over 30 years there is no pay back. If Sean were to ride his bike down here and have a look there he could see roughly 60 people live on that same size block . Sean I live at 7521 Pillsbury ave south, Call me 612.272.7893 any time, I can walk you around to each door and have the resident from a mile radius to inform you of what they think about this project. Please also visit the FB Site, www.facebook.com/richfieldminnesota to view all the documents We have collected over 1300 signatures across the city. So it is just not here. If you want to get a good feel of how the city is responding come with me over the next few days as we are door knocking. Put on your walking shoes and get some fresh air with me...any time..I do like the side walk-bike thing..
Kevin O'Donovan June 07, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Race should not matter when housing is discussed. Richfield City Government relies too much on funding from government sources. Small businesses and less regulation, will help Richfield grow. The Met Council should not be in the discussion except as an information source. How many years did it take before the City Council approved the plans for 66th and Penn or Menards at Nicolette? Let private developers use their own resources and get out of their way. Demonstrate a simple quick and efficient approval process. Show everyone that Richfield is open for business. One sure way to attract investors is to make it easier for them to invest at a reduced cost and expeditiously. Low property values and low interest rates will not continue forever. The time to open the gates is now. Public housing projects always turn into problem properties with little upside, and are a cancer in their communities.
Kent June 07, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Actually I know a fair number of people who will NOT live in Minneapolis. Richfield has been slowly losing its identity for years by trying to become someone else instead of leveraging its advantages. We are the small town feel within the twin cites. Some call our location between major highways a downside but I see an advantage. Some think we need to become someone else and I think we should become ourselves. Merging with Minneapolis will only subject us to more of the same politics we are already frustrated with. The proposed site for the Pillsbury commons will be on a nice bicycle path in the future with only a couple of businesses up the tracks still utilizing them. Having an excellent North-South bike path is the sort of thing that attracts many young professional families. The land near the path would make a great location for people using the bike path. To look at it today and say its cheap unwanted land (as many are doing including the proposed developer) is not looking at trends and future potential but rather things like immediate income streams for themselves. The reason we have the projected development is because of free money offered for "affordable" housing not because it is best for Richfield. Throwing up an affordable housing development to make a developer lots of money seems wrong. Let's clear the lots and plant grass for now. Or maybe make it a temporary neighborhood garden to improve its looks while we wait to develop it properly.
Richfield Commoners United June 09, 2012 at 12:52 PM
This is an excelant reponse to Mr. Camillo De Santis http://richfield.patch.com/articles/resident-accuses-pillsbury-commons-supporters-of-crying-wolf
jane doe July 27, 2012 at 02:44 AM
does anyone know why they tore down the basketball court in the richfield park and what they are building in its place? It is located next to the library. thanks.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) July 27, 2012 at 05:38 AM
The city is putting in a skateboarding park.

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