Recognizing concerns residents have expressed during the planning of recent major city projects, the Northfield Planning Commission is considering a formal process to ensure it gets feedback from all stakeholders.
A possible solution, according to Northfield Planning Commission members William Schroeer and Betsey Buckheit: charettes.
A charrette is considered a multi-day, collaborative planning event intended to get the perspectives of all stakeholders to create and support a feasible plan. It produces an implementation plan, which is supported by stakeholders. Professionals are on-hand to offer strategic input while community members provide local feedback.
Schroeer believes the charrette process creates public trust and a shared vision because people have been meaningfully involved/educated. He also sees charrettes as providing participants the chance to move the conversation behind explaining why development is taking place to what the project is being designed for, from technical aspects to connectivity and imperviousness measures to benefit the entire neighborhood.
Schroeer said the process has proven to successfully diffuse “very contentious situations.”
Before the Northfield City Council approved the 440-bed St. Olaf College housing project this week, Mattie Lufkin, who lives near the project site on the corner of Lincoln Lane and Lincoln Street, said she and other residents who lived within 350 feet of the building project had not been notified of the pending project as required, something college officials deny.
Schroeer and Buckheit said there has also been concern expressed about development processes being adversarial, causing delays and other “suboptimal results,” a “desire for positive processes,” and the perceived need to build more neighborhoods residents and developers want.
Schroeer said neighbors near a proposed development near Greenvale Park Elementay proposed to house 130-140 apartment units and 20 single-family one- and two-story homes, have expressed interest in having the charrette process to discuss the development and even writing to the council urging one be used.
The initiative is needed, Buckheit says, because prior resident engagement has proven to be “not very satisfying.” She believes the city and developers need to find better ways to engage with Northfielders to ensure they are aware of project plans.
Schroeer added that utilizing the charrette process will also allow all stakeholders to work with a shared starting point. Some cities have made charrettes a requirement in the development process, but most do not and use it as a tool they deploy in certain cases.
Northfield Community Development Director Mitzi Baker noted, however, that the Planning Commission must consider the possibility along with other priorities they have already identified.
Planning Commissioner Tracy Heisler said she wants the possibility to be integrated into work plan discussions to see if it is a way for the board to develop charrettes moving forward. Buckheit suggested the plan also be used as the city continues to develop the Riverfront area.