A front page article in last week’s Northfield News (March 31, 2021) reported that more than two hundred citizens are challenging a proposed infill development of an almost 12-acre heavily-treed lot in an established residential neighborhood.

A city staff member is quoted as saying that since the land is zoned for the proposed use the city could face a legal challenge if the City Council rejects the proposal. This is extremely concerning. I do not have answers, but I do have questions.

Does this mean the city cannot take into consideration previously unknown or newly discovered information or other legal factors in its decision making? Does the city not have the right to assess the wisdom of its own actions? Does it mean that just because something can be done legally it is necessarily a wise thing to do, or that its legality requires one to do it?

While the developers’ proposal would seem to beneficially fulfill some aspects of Northfield’s housing needs how are we to consider its apparent conflicts with aspects of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the Land Development Code and the city’s Climate Action Plan, and possibly with state and federal law?

Since there are serious traffic safety issues that cause concern for parents and teachers at the two schools abutting the development, would it not be wise to conduct an independent traffic study? Since the property, according to city geological maps, has a significant area of hydric soil which defines wetland, and since it provides habitat for unique plants and most particularly a colony of rusty patched bumblebees, a federally declared endangered pollinator, would it not be appropriate for a proper environmental assessment to be made?

Since the project seems to conflict not only with many environmental aspects of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code but would also undermine two of the Climate Action Plan’s initial-priorities, one of which is the need for carbon sequestration through the vigorous planting of trees, should these not be factored into city decision making? How can it serve to cut down many, if not most of the trees on this 12-acre property even though the developers have said they will plant new trees to replace them, since it will take a couple of decades for them to mature, and during that time, in terms of carbon sequestration, we will be losing ground? Are we simply to ignore one of the city’s strategic goals for another without investigation?

What happens if a child is injured crossing the street due to unaddressed traffic issues? What state regulations apply regarding wetlands? Already a legal suit has been filed in California over a threat to the rusty patched bumblebee. Might failing to properly address any one of these matters also prompt a legal challenge to the city? I do not have the answers, but should not these questions be answered?

May I respectfully urge all those involved to take a step back and take the necessary time to consider how it would be truly best to meet the needs and good intentions of everyone involved: the owner who seeks to sell his land, the city who looks to fulfill a variety of its needs and goals, the developers who seek to meet them, those in the area including children who will be directly affected, and the community as a whole who will collectively benefit or suffer the consequences for a very long time?

Can we take the time to use our imagination and common sense to find a better outcome? Must it be a zero sum game that is played out here? Can we, instead, use this opportunity to include broader stake-holder input regarding development, not only of this property but for others in the future, so that our city’s decision making processes can be made as rationally, inclusively, holistically, transparently, sustainably and wisely as possible?

Philip Spensley lives on the west side of Northfield.

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