St. Paul finally knows what it's doing with the Ford site

It approved a 20-year masterplan at a meeting on Wednesday.

After years of debate, wrangling and division over the future of the 135-acre former Ford plant in St. Paul, a firm plan is finally in place.

The St. Paul City Council voted 5-2 on Wednesday to approve a 20-year masterplan that will revitalize the derelict land in Highland Park into a mixture of housing, retail and office space.

Since the plant finally closed in 2011, its future has been a cause of controversy, with divisions emerging between those wanting to bring sustainable growth to the neighborhood and those living nearby who are worried about the impact on their lives.

Under the masterplan, the site will be split up into multiple development zones, with up to 4,000 homes split between higher density, multi-family homes on the east side, and single-family and town homes on the west side abutting the Mississippi River.

Housing on the land will be limited to six stories tall, but there are options to increase that maximum to ten stories provided extra green space is added in return. Twenty percent of the housing will be classed as "affordable." 

The land at the south and north ends, along Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenue South, will be designated for business use.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says the plan is the result of a decade of discussions with community members that incorporates "thousands of ideas and feedback" into the final draft, saying the Ford site vision will make it "one of the most sustainable, equitable communities in the country – if not the world."

The Pioneer Press notes that an amendment introduced by council member Dai Thao stipulates that half of future affordable housing at the site be designated for the poorest people in the city – those earning no more than 30 percent of local median income.

Nonetheless Thao was one of the two council members who voted against the plan, the other being Jane Prince, who argued the housing density was too "intense" and neighbors had not been listened to, the newspaper reports.

Among those objecting to the plan was Highland Park resident Karen Wilson, who according to the Star Tribune accused the council of "taking our neighborhood away from us."

This is just the next step in a lengthy process. Ford Motors is expected to put the site on the market early next year, with possible developers then having to submit plans. Development is expected to be phased, with the site gradually built up over the next 15-20 years.

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