Over 80 residents attended the Thursday, Feb. 28 meeting of the Planning Commission where the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and East Oaks Planned Development Agreement (PDA) were the primary topics of discussion.
The first item of business was to swear in three new Planning Commissioners, which was done by Planning Commissioner Chair Katy Ross. The new Commissioners are Mark Azman (two-year term), Stig Hauge (three-year term) and Sara Shah (three-year term). (The term limits were decided by a draw of straws at the Planning Commission Workshop at a later date, on March 13, 2019.)
Chair Ross spoke about the responsibilities of the Planning Commissioners. Their role is to serve as an advisory committee to the City Council to research, advise and make recommendations to the City Council on applications made by property owners. They must also prepare the Comprehensive Plan, conduct public hearings, and review conditional use permits, variances and septic system requests.
The Comprehensive Plan is a public document delivered to the Metropolitan Council every 10 years outlining the
City’s objectives for future growth and development. As the Comp Plan itself states, it is “a public document that describes how a community wants to develop over a specified planning period. It is based on the long-term goals and objectives of the community. A comprehensive plan also serves as the guide for the timing and location of future growth and the preparation of subdivision and zoning ordinances and related ordinances to implement the plan. Communities use public input and analysis of existing physical, economic, environmental and social conditions to develop a comprehensive plan.”
Planning Commissioner Kara Ries delivered an update on the 2040 Comp Plan, explaining that additional historical information has come to light recently that requires a closer look a some of the language and numbers specified in the current draft of the Comp Plan. The City Council is recommended the Comp Plan go back to the Planning Commission for further review using the new information gained.
Former mayor Tom Watson gave a summary of the work he did on the previous Comp Plan from his time as a City Councilmember (1991–2001) and Mayor (2001–2009), reminding the Commission that Met Council is most concerned with the City’s needs for water/sewer, transportation and zoning.
A public hearing regarding the Comp Plan is scheduled for the March 28 Planning Commission meeting.
Next, the East Oaks PDA was discussed. North Oaks Company (NOC) President Mark Hauge explained that the NOC and City spent considerable effort in 1999 negotiating an agreement on how best to develop the 1,650 acres of the remaining land in the northeast and east area of North Oaks, allowing for housing to be spread out over thirteen individual neighborhoods. NOC has designated 880 acres of permanent open space, along with trails and easement. This includes 660 acres in a permanent conservation easement and another 220 acres as an Agricultural Conservation Area. NOC has set aside 54 percent of the total area as a permanent natural environment. This leaves thirteen neighborhood areas to be developed and the PDA describes the types of density and what could occur there. There are six areas left to be developed, and NOC would like to begin work on both the Nord and Wilkinson South areas this summer.
Commissioner Azman asked about how many housing units were described in the North Oaks PDA. NOC President Hauge stated that 645 units were identified in the original PDA to be developed based on single-family housing. The housing types differ slightly than original plans, however, and the PDA outlines this flexibility between types of housing in order to trade off units.
Commissioner Hauge asked when the Planning Commission could expect to see the remaining final plans. NOC President Hauge stated they were hoping to dovetail into one presentation the Gate Hill, Island Field and Red Forest South areas in March or April.
Commissioner Shah stated that the East Oaks agreement was a 30-year agreement with the original plan set to be completed in 2029. She asked what happens if the PDA is not completed by that deadline. President Hauge stated it is his understanding the agreements could become null and void if not executed by that deadline.
Commissioner Reid asked President Hauge what the Planning Commission was required to review before their next meeting. President Hauge stated that the Agreement requires that the NOC come to the Planning Commission and City with preliminary subdivision plans for public review and comment. Then they could begin grading work and come back to City with any changes to the final plan.
City Administrator Mike Robertson mentioned that the previous 1998 agreement contract between the City and NOC allows development of the East Oaks area; therefore, residents asking for no development at all cannot be accommodated. What type of development is under the control of the City through the East Oaks PDA and the City’s ordinance controls. He also noted that the open space already designated in the PDA would not change.
Twenty-one residents spoke during the public hearing section of the meeting when citizen comments are welcome. Concerns raised included the potential for increased traffic, a loss of trails and open space, lots that are too small (too much high-density versus low-density development), safety and privacy negatively impacted, possible harm to the environment (especially Black Lake) and losing sight of the “unique” character of North Oaks.
Mr. Watson advised that the Planning Commission extend the approval timeframe from 60 days to 120 days (which has since been granted) so that they see the big picture of what is proposed in all the remaining locations.
Chair Ross stated she would like to see the question surrounding the planned vs. projected housing numbers resolved. Commissioner Yoshimura-Rank stated the ability to have the entire plan would be valuable. Commissioner Azman asked that NOC have time to respond to some of the citizen comments.
Commissioner Reid moved to continue the public hearing concerning the PDA at the March 28 Planning Commission meeting and to delay the individual parcel hearings until then, which was seconded by Commissioner Hauge and approved unanimously. Chair Ross abstained from voting. The meeting was adjourned at 10:02 p.m.