By Stacie Kvilvang
When communities undertake redevelopment, they often identify a geographic area and announce it will be transformed. To “sell” the idea of redevelopment, artistic visions are created full of public green space and sidewalk cafes. Yet when development proposals are received, they may be missing those valued elements. How can staff and officials avoid being accused of bait and switch when development proposals fall short of a vision?
The City of New Hope provides an interesting case study. Three years ago, the city acquired a vacant K-mart site with the vision of creating a town center with a vibrant mix of housing over retail and a public gathering space. The vision was created through a resident task force guided by a consultant planning firm.
“The missing component of the process was developer input on the vision to see if the private market would construct it,” says Jeff Sargent, New Hope community development director. “When we did engage developers in a series of roundtable discussions, we learned the market would not support our detailed plan.”
Two developers submitted proposals for housing next to retail, a departure from the vertical, mixed use envisioned in the plan. A third proposal strayed even further from the vision and proposed a “big box” Hy-Vee grocery store, the first in Minnesota. The community wanted a full-service grocery, but did not want to lose this unique opportunity to create a more traditional gathering space.
New Hope navigated the divide between its vision and a large grocery store by carefully communicating with residents at four key stages of the process:
Communicate the problem
Redevelopment is a process with inherent uncertainty and, in the face of certain change without certain outcomes, people will resist. Uncertainty makes the status quo pretty appealing. So, the first task in undertaking redevelopment is to build consensus about the need for change.
In New Hope’s case, a more flexible vision was needed. How could the city retain essential components of its original plan while accommodating a broader range of development? Defining and building consensus around the problem allows both decision-makers and residents to be more flexible in finding solutions.
Communicate the process
Citizens facing change need to have confidence that the decision-making process is transparent, thoughtful, and competent. Communities need to spell out the timing and scope of the key decisions in the redevelopment process, and the amount of public input that will be gathered prior to each decision.
New Hope leaders clearly communicated their process of how they would solicit, review, and select a development proposal through updates at Council meetings and via the city website and newsletter.
Communicate the options
The Council considered the three development proposals in a public meeting. None of the options matched the planning vision, so the Council took a step back and evaluated the proposals according to the community’s most important goals: increasing retail options, and creating a “destination” and public gathering spot.
Communicate the selected option
The Council selected the Hy-Vee store as its preferred option because it brought a restaurant, liquor store, and grocery store, and provided an outlot for a medical office building. By clustering the non-grocery uses near the street and adding significant streetscaping, the Council felt the option retained the essential elements of its original vision.
Before selecting that option, the Council solicited public feedback by hosting an open house. The public responded overwhelmingly that they preferred the grocery option. The open house clearly communicated how public input would be used and the steps in the decision-making process, giving the Council credibility as it moved forward.
Many communities think the first step in redevelopment is to create a planning vision for new development, so residents can get excited about the outcomes. Unfortunately, those visions are too often created in a vacuum without developer input or market realities being considered.
When the development proposals fall short of the vision, community resistance is likely. By communicating and gathering public input at each stage of the process, the City of New Hope was able to seamlessly correct course.
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