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St. Paul council OKs ordinance for mixed-use development at Ford site

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The former Ford Plant site, seen here in June.
The former Ford Plant site, seen here in June.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News file

 Updated: 10 p.m. | Posted: 7:32 p.m.

After about a decade of work, the St. Paul City Council has passed an ordinance guiding mixed-use development for the Ford plant site. 

Council member Chris Tolbert began working on a vision for the 135-acre parcel soon after he took office in 2012.

"By changing this from industrial zoning to the mixed use development, we are protecting the neighborhood for the uses that we want, for the design standards we want and the mixed use that we want," Tolbert said.

The Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan calls for between 2,400 and 4,000 housing units, a mixture of commercial and office development. It also calls for 20 percent of the development to be public parks, trails or open space.

The plan, as passed, calls for high-density development, split into six districts. Among those districts would be four residential areas and two commercial areas.

The residential areas would include homes, apartment buildings, townhouses, condos and possibly senior housing.

Housing was an area of concern for Council member Dai Thao who urged the council to increase very low-income housing from 5 to 10 percent.  The plan calls for another 10 percent allotted to low and moderate income earners.

Thao said low-income housing is concentrated in his ward, which includes Frogtown. He said the Ford site presents an opportunity to distribute that more evenly.

"Who are we really for then? It sounds like we are trying create a plan that is best suited for the developer," Thao said. "And I think that if we're going to density then we've got to make sure there is appropriate affordable housing on the site."

The amendment passed 4-3.

In the end, Thao, joined by Council member Jane Prince, were the only two "no" votes on the Ford site ordinance. Thao had offered other amendments that were defeated. 

Prince wondered if the council needed still more time to work through issues before a final vote. 

"Don't rush this thing, because this level of anguish in the community is something that should not be cemented by council action that isn't required to happen immediately," Prince said.

The city first began discussing a plan for the site in 2007, and held public meetings for more than a year. The council took even more comments just before the vote. As before, they were fairly evenly divided between those in favor and opposed.

Tolbert said with its vote the council could guide development that will happen anyway.

"I know we can honor the things that have made St. Paul and Highland Park special for decades," Tolbert said.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman plans to ceremoniously sign the master plan ordinance Thursday.