Roseville's Twin Lakes: Traffic trap or environmental fix? 
 Star Tribune 5/11/05
by Chris Serres

As Tam McGehee sees it, Roseville is running short of one of its most precious commodities: peace and quiet.

McGehee, a retiree who has lived in Roseville since 1979, blames the Roseville City Council, which has approved more than 200,000 square feet of new retail space over the past year and appears to be on the verge of approving yet another major project: Twin Lakes, a 73-acre project with more than a half-million square feet of office and retail space and $40 million in subsidies.

"I moved here because I liked the peace and quiet. I liked the parks. I liked the community feeling. But now this city's being turned into one giant retail center that is nothing like a community," McGehee said.

McGehee is one of hundreds of Roseville residents making a last-ditch effort to rally people against the Twin Lakes development before it goes to a final City Council vote on June 20.

They say they are tired of changing their daily schedules, from the timing of their daily walks to when they pick up their children from school, to avoid the congestion, the exhaust and the noise created by shoppers. 

Though Roseville has a population of just 34,000, it has 82 square feet of retail per capita, the most in the state. That's nearly five times the Twin Cities average, which is 18 square feet per capita, according to a 2004 report by United Properties.

In January, 50 disgruntled Roseville residents organized under a group called "Friends of Twin Lakes," filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County accusing the City Council of failing to conduct adequate environmental reviews. The initial hearing on that lawsuit is scheduled for June 22.

Yet proponents of the project say the master developer, Rottlund Companies, is actually doing the city and the environment a favor.

The site of the proposed development in northwestern Roseville contains abandoned truck terminals, at least one vacant gas station, rusted gas tanks that may be leaking contaminants into the soil and acre after acre of empty pavement.

Redeveloping the project will remove an eyesore and force the city to tackle the environmental problems that may be lurking under the pavement.

The debate over the project has pitted some neighbors against each other and has led to some long and divisive public meetings in which members of both camps would often shout each other down. "It's gotten nasty at times," McGehee said.

So far, the proponents are winning. On April 25, the city council approved by a 3-2 vote a list of terms of a proposed contract between the city and the developers. The term sheet includes 330,000 square feet of retail space, including a "big box" retailer such as Costco; 220,000 square feet of office space; and 730 housing units, including townhouses and condominiums.

Yet some city officials say the project would never proceed without millions of dollars in public subsidies.

As part of the term sheet, developers involved in the project will receive $30 million in tax-increment financing, in which anticipated higher tax revenue from the redeveloped property would be used to pay for the improvements. In addition, they will receive $6 million in transportation and environmental grants and $4 million in subsidies for hazardous waste cleanup.

If the city doesn't take action, then "something will happen in a haphazard manner," Roseville Mayor Craig Klausing warned. Developers could move in and redevelop the prime sites and leave the blighted ones untouched. "If you do a piecemeal development, you make it difficult to redevelop the entire site and certain parcels continue to deteriorate or you get expansion of undesirable uses there already."

Not everyone agrees. The site, near Interstate Hwy. 35W, is among the last available plots available for development in the city. It's about a mile west of Rosedale Center, which according to a recent University of St. Thomas study generates the highest sales per square foot of any shopping mall in the state.

Opponents are particularly bothered by the fact that Roseville's City Council never held a competitive bid for development of the project. Rottlund has had exclusive rights to negotiate a master development agreement at Twin Lakes for the past nine months.

"We don't know if someone else would have offered something better because this is the only possibility that the City Council has considered," said Amy Ihlan, a city councilwoman in Roseville who has voted consistently against the project.

Others question the wisdom of using public money to finance retail development in an area already jammed with strip malls, restaurants and department stores.

Tax-increment financing (TIF) packages, in particular, have a history of outlasting the life of the projects they support, said Art Rolnick, research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Twenty-two years ago, the City Center received $125 million in TIF subsidies in today's dollars to become the premier shopping center in downtown Minneapolis. Today, construction crews are busy converting much of that building to office space because fewer people are coming downtown to shop.

"Many of these developments are bluffs. Developers say, 'I'm not going to come to your city unless you can guarantee us subsidies,' " Rolnick said. "By allowing developers to do this, it diverts public money from schools and roads and communities that could really use that money."

Chris Serres is at (612) 673-4608.

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