Editorial by AMY IHLAN
Published in the Pioneer Press

The editorial board recently applauded the three members of the Roseville City Council who support a controversial big-box retail development for the Twin Lakes area. Dismissing strong and reasoned public opposition as "out of touch," the editorial (Jan. 13) praised the plan as "smart" land use.

But there is nothing "smart" about it. And the editorial board betrays its ignorance of many important reasons the big-box proposal is such a bad idea for the city and residents of Roseville. Here are just a few:

Roseville does not need more big retail development. According to a June 2004 study, Roseville already has more retail space per capita than any other city in the metro area -- 82 square feet per resident -- far above the Twin Cities average of 18 square feet. Roseville already provides lots of great shopping opportunities for St. Paul and surrounding regions. The "smart" strategy is for Roseville to keep its existing retail community thriving, instead of oversaturating our market.

"Smart" planning also requires recognizing the costs of big-box development, including increased traffic and other environmental impacts. The editors observe that Roseville has spent "more than a decade of deliberation" on how to redevelop Twin Lakes, but fail to mention that until now, city leaders have consistently rejected big-box proposals. Roseville's Comprehensive Plan specifically recommends against big-box development in the Twin Lakes area because of the traffic, large parking lots and low-paying jobs that go with it.

The council majority is willing to scrap these carefully considered plans and policies to give the developers whatever they want. Developer Rottlund Homes claims that a big-box "engine" is economically necessary for redevelopment. This makes no sense. There are successful mixed-use developments all over the Twin Cities that don't have big boxes. Small scale, neighborhood-friendly support retail would be the "smart" approach for Twin Lakes. But Rottlund refuses to offer this reasonable alternative -- and since the council majority has granted them exclusive negotiating rights, the city can't enter the free market to get better proposals from other developers.

The big-box "engine" will draw shoppers from a more than 30 mile radius -- creating more traffic and congestion than the area can support. According to the developers' own studies, traffic volume along Fairview in the residential neighborhood north of County Road C2 will more than double to levels of nearly 16,000 cars per day (and this is probably a conservative estimate). But residents' concerns about their property values and the livability of our neighborhood have gone completely unacknowledged and unaddressed by the council majority.

Traffic from the big box will also have dramatic impact on secluded Langton Lake Park, home to many bird and animal species, including fox, deer and owls. The developers plan to run a busy four-lane parkway right along the edge of the park and are blunt about their intention to "open up" the lake to serve as an amenity for their housing and retail developments. Sadly, the council majority is willing to sacrifice an irreplaceable natural area for the developers' profits -- hardly a "smart" environmental tradeoff. The same council majority voted to deny a petition for further review of other important environmental issues, forcing citizens to take their request to the courts. Unfortunately, money that could have funded needed environmental review will now go to pay legal fees.

To top it off, Rottlund is demanding more than $40 million in public subsidies, and the city's use of eminent domain, for a proposal with no public purpose or benefit to the community. The editorial board claims the project includes 10 acres of "public areas" -- but since when are busy roads and drainage ponds public areas? Let's be real -- this is an unimaginative suburban sprawl development, with an intersection for a "town square."

There is one important fact that the editorial got right: Twin Lakes is a very valuable redevelopment site. Roseville desperately needs leadership with vision and determination, who will protect the public interest and build consensus around redevelopment consistent with community goals and ideals.

Ihlan is a member of the Roseville City Council.

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