In April 2019, the City renewed a Preliminary Development Agreement with Alatus for 35 acres of the 80- acre Opportunity Site. The agreement outlined roles and responsibilities for each party, which included the City taking the lead on master planning for the site, in partnership with Alatus, and incorporating the larger 80-acre Opportunity Site into the master plan. Alatus for their part in the agreement was tasked with implementing an initial phase of development and continuing their work to bring a development forward.
Throughout 2019, the City, along with its consultant team, worked to develop the Opportunity Site Master Plan. This was a multi-phased approach that involved a combination of technical assessment, initial community engagement, feasibility analysis, and further community engagement to continue to refine the plan.
The scale and reach of community engagement on this project has exceeded that of any past effort in the City’s history; however, the intent with this project is to ensure that the outcomes truly benefit the residents of Brooklyn Center, and this necessitates a much deeper, more inclusive engagement strategy than may be typical.
From the beginning, the engagement approach was intended to support this vision through an in-depth, inclusive process that connected with diverse groups and views throughout the city.
Principles guiding this approach included:
- Consistency with city goals and policies, including the new city comprehensive plan.
- Ensuring the development provided direct access and bene?ts for city residents.
- Authentic engagement to connect people with the decision-making process.
- Meaningful opportunities to in?uence outcomes for the plan and the site.
- Transparency in decision making, to build trust and accountability.
While these principles have remained, the approach to engagement has evolved and changed since then, in response to feedback on effectiveness, and changes in external conditions.
The City is working with NEOO Partners on a public engagement strategy that includes contracting with community partners to lead deeper and more meaningful engagement with community, and the creation of a citizen advisory taskforce to distill the engagement results and create a community benefits plan for the development.
A master plan is a big picture, values-driven plan that informs future development of an area. Master plans do not provide details on specific development projects. Typically master plans consist of two primary components:
1) A set of physical infrastructure frameworks that comprise the physical layout of the area with roads, parks, trails, stormwater, land use and utilities, and;
2) An implementation component that identifies how the physical elements will be delivered and what they are intended to achieve. This component may include development goals, community benefits, financial feasibility, zoning regulations, detailed infrastructure design, and short and longer-term action steps.
A draft master plan largely comprised of the physical infrastructure frameworks was completed in January 2020. This was based on early engagement efforts, the City’s comprehensive plan, the geographic context of the site, and the physical realities of the redevelopment areas. Early engagement efforts focused on developing guiding principles and values for the development, identifying outcomes that the community wanted to see, and getting input on prioritizing those outcomes.
The intention at that point was to move into an engagement phase to develop the implementation component of the plan, which will provide a more detailed community benefits plan. This process was slowed due to the pandemic and then further delayed by civil unrest, but is being re-engaged under an engagement strategy developed by NEOO Partners, and in collaboration with community partners.
In the interim, a traffic study was conducted, based on the draft master plan, and a regional stormwater plan was developed for the site. One of the next steps to complete the implementation component of the master plan is to develop more refined designs for the roads, streetscapes and utilities. Refined designs are needed to complete cost estimates and stormwater planning, and to develop an implementation plan for the public improvements.
In addition, Three Rivers Park District has committed to providing a 4-acre “mini-regional park”, within the development area. They have amended their parks and trails master plan to include the project and have included it in their 2024 CIP. They will begin an engagement and planning process for the park later in 2021.
MNDOT holds approximately 5 acres of right of way adjacent to Highway 100 and in the middle of a highly visible area within the redevelopment plan. This ROW is for John Martin Drive and connects to the John Martin Drive access and bridge over Highway 100, which is also owned by MNDOT. The draft master plan calls for the closure of this access and bridge, and for MNDOT to vacate that ROW, allowing it to be incorporated into a future development area. At present, MNDOT has expressed hesitation to move ahead with any review of that ROW, due to a future 2026 Highway 100 improvement that may need stormwater capacity. Staff has been working with MNDOT to ensure they understand that the highest and best use of that land is not a stormwater pond, nor is waiting to determine MNDOT's potential future need for the land acceptable. These conversations are ongoing.
The EDA controls approximately 44 of the 80-acre Opportunity Site area. The balance of land is privately owned by various parties. Nearly all of those properties are for sale, or have willing sellers. Staff has received numerous inquiries from parties interested in acquiring these parcels. Interest includes redevelopment concepts, as well as reuse concepts. Generally, proposed concepts are for uses that do not align with the draft master plan. This is not surprising since the draft master plan calls for a significant re-visioning of the area, to intensify the land use, bring new infrastructure and amenities to the site, and deliver outcomes that the market would not be able to deliver on its own without city support.
The concern is that absent a vision for the site, the City has limited ability to ensure that any reuse or redevelopment of private property within the Opportunity Site aligns with what the City wants to achieve on the site. Without an adopted framework for future redevelopment, it is more difficult for staff to convey the City’s vision and provide direction to property owners and prospective buyers.
The 2040 Comprehensive Plan identifies future land uses for the Opportunity Site of Transit Oriented Development and Commercial Mixed Use; however, the zoning for the site allows auto-oriented retail and commercial uses, which are not in alignment with the vision. A moratorium on new development was put into place in August 2019, and expired in August 2020. The City does not have the ability to put into place another moratorium.
The Opportunity Site Master Plan will eventually be adopted as part of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, once it is completed, which will provide greater regulatory oversight for the City. In the interim however, absent a change in zoning or an adopted master plan for the site, the City has less discretion when it comes to the future use of these parcels.
At the June 7, City Council Special Work Session, staff and the consultant team presented the draft Infrastructure Framework for discussion and asked for direction from the City Council on how to proceed. Staff introduced and presented four physical elements that form the framework that will guide the development of the Opportunity Site. These were:
- Access and Connectivity
- Parks and Open Space
- Land Use
A full description of each infrastructure element can be found in the attached June 7, City Council report.
At the June 7 Special Work Session, the City Council directed staff to move ahead with the Infrastructure Framework, particularly the elements related to Stormwater, Access and Connectivity, and Parks and Open Space. The City Council expressed that the elements of the Infrastructure Framework would need to remain flexible moving forward as additional engagement is done, and continue to be informed by the community engagement process. Both of these points are included in the attached resolution, adopting the Infrastructure Framework.
In terms of Land Use, the City Council expressed a desire to retain the most amount of flexibility for how the eastern 22-acres of land could and would be used in the future. While the current land use designation for the Opportunity Site is a combination of Transit Oriented Development and Commercial Mixed Use, the City Council indicated an openness to exploring other land uses, such as Business Mixed Use, provided the resulting development was compatible with the balance of the site and furthered important City goals for community benefits and sustainability.
Further, the City Council expressed that future land use for the eastern 22-acres continue to evolve and be informed by community engagement.
Based on the City Council's discussion and direction, staff and the consultant team have revised the proposed Infrastructure Framework, which is attached to this report, along with a resolution which would adopt it. The Infrastructure Framework document outlines high level goals for each physical element, as well as conceptually lays out the site. The attached resolution provides flexibility to implement the physical infrastructure elements with continued community input, and as design of the elements continues. In addition, the Infrastructure Framework includes the background context for the site and identifies ways in which an equity lens applies to each infrastructure element.
The approval of an Infrastructure Framework will guide the Opportunity Site Master Plan work, in particular the development of the implementation section of the plan. It will also progress and facilitate discussions with Three Rivers Park District and MNDOT, as well as provide guidance on the future physical build out of the site, putting the City in a better negotiating position when talking with existing property owners and prospective interested parties.
Further, adoption of the Infrastructure Framework will allow staff to continue the preliminary design and implementation of the roadways, stormwater and parks and open space elements, which is needed in order to complete the Opportunity Site Master Plan.