Arden Hills seeks input on TCAAP civic site


file photo With development work stalling on the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills, the city revealed at a Nov. 14 public hearing plans for a civic site at the development that’s intended to be a community gathering space.

Reveal comes as development work stalls

 

A Nov. 14 public forum in Arden Hills was supposed to be the big reveal of concepts for a city-owned civic site at the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant development, but news from the week prior intervened.

The “elephant in the room,” as described by one attendee, was the Nov. 6 letter from Ramsey County to the city stating the county was pulling resources from its side of the two’s joint TCAAP redevelopment work. The event was planned prior to the county’s statement.

Speaking to the crowd of 50-or-so residents at the Ramsey County Public Works Building, Mayor David Grant touched on the impasse, saying the county asked the city to increase density at what’s being called the Rice Creek Commons, and when the city said no, the county put the work on hold.

“We are not inclined to increase that density,” Grant said from the podium. The county reportedly wants to up the density to accommodate more affordable housing units; the city has agreed to 1,460 units at the site.

Ramsey County owns the 427-acre parcel in Arden Hills’ northwest corner, and per Grant, was in the process of selling it to Minneapolis-based developer Alatus, based on prior agreements between the three. The county has a reported $41 million sunk into the site, between its purchase of it, cleanup and other expenses.

“The perception Ramsey County is getting from the City of Arden Hills is that they view the project as an inconvenience rather than a benefit,” the county’s letter said.

 

Big additions

Sticking to the agenda in-between remarks on the county-city impasse, Grant put into perspective the significance of the TCAAP development.

Through it’s mix of housing, commercial and other uses, it stands to add 4,000 residents to the city, which has a current population of 10,000, into an area roughly the size of downtown St. Paul.

City Administrator Dave Perrault ran through more details about the development, including infrastructure plans and the delivery of services, returning again and again to the idea that the city would do its best to make sure any new, TCAAP-specific municipal expenses would be borne by those who will live there, and not by existing Arden Hills residents who live outside the development.

As for the original reason for the public forum, the planned civic site at the Rice Creek Commons, a representative from HGA Architects, which is helping to design it, discussed concepts for the facility it had worked out with help from the city’s Civic Site Task Force, which was put together this summer.

There are four options: a City Hall plus, which would replace the existing City Hall on Highway 96 and also feature event space and a restaurant; a community hub with meeting and event spaces, a restaurant and senior and arts areas; a community wellness center with a gymnasium and wellness studios that could be used for things like yoga; or a community hub plus wellness building, which would combine the latter two options.

The civic site is set to be on a 1.6-acre plot the city would buy from Alatus for $1. Per the civic site agreement, Alatus would build underground parking and set up the building’s infrastructure connections, both large expenses, while the city, relying on Rice Creek Commons-based revenue, would cover the rest of its construction.

 

‘We aren’t Shoreview’

Perrault attempted to end the presentation portion of the forum and told attendees they could speak individually to city officials and HGA employees to give feedback and ask questions, but Gregg Larson, a former Arden Hills City Council member, tried to steer the event in another direction.

From his seat in the audience Larsen stood and called for officials to take questions and feedback from the group as a whole, arguing the event as planned wasn’t designed for a true public discussion.

Grant eventually returned to the podium to say the event would continue as planned; a mix of murmurs and grumbling seemed to show that Larsen had the support of roughly half the room.

Speaking after Grant ended the presentation for good, Larson, who was on the city council from 1997 to 2006, said the city has its purposes: public safety, delivery of basic services, upkeep of infrastructure. He saw no reason it should try to compete with the private sector with event spaces or yoga studios. He added that neighboring cities like Shoreview might have their community centers, but, “We arenít Shoreview.”

Larsen also said he was frustrated with the stalled progress with respect to the development as a whole.

“We’re right on the edge of this being successful,” he said. “The city has dug its heels in and said, ‘We won’t change what we agreed to three years ago.’”

Give and take

Jim Lambeth, a city Planning Commission member and chair of the Civic Site Task Force, said in an interview at the forum that between the $1 purchase price of the land and the work that will be covered by the developer, the civic site is a no-brainer.

“We think that’s a pretty good deal, but nothing’s been signed,” he said, noting the most costly construction takes place underground, and Alatus will take care of that for the civic site. 

“Once you go vertical you’re home free,” Lambeth said.

He lauded the work already done by HGA and the task force, which is made up of city commission members and two council liaisons, saying he was eager to see the first round of public feedback, adding, “We want [the site] to be a major draw for the whole community.”

While attendees went about writing civic site feedback on Post-It Notes, city council member Brenda Holden didn’t mince words when it came to the disagreement with the county.

“Everything the city was supposed to do, it did it with Ramsey County input,” she said, claiming the county abruptly broke off communications without warning.

With the city’s Rice Creek Commons infrastructure responsibilities in mind, Holden worried that if the housing market took a turn for the worst that the city would be left holding the bag. The city initially agreed to a $10 million contribution, though the county claimed in its letter that it’s put in substantially less than that.

As to what could bring the two government entities back to working together, Holden was looking for empathy.

“The county needs to come and appreciate what we’ve given up for them,” she said.

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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