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Neighbors fear losing 'quiet' with former St. Paul golf course's development

4 March 2022

Like many area residents, Julie and Jesse Harms want to see the former Hillcrest Golf Course redeveloped to include housing and jobs for lower income families.

But they’d sure like it if the 112-acre site next to their backyard also preserves the neighborhood quiet they’ve come to cherish. And building a few single-family homes to better blend in would be nice too, they said.

“Putting medium density housing right outside my window is a huge change to the nature of the neighborhood,” Jesse Harms told the St. Paul Planning Commission Friday during a public hearing on the project’s master plan.

Later, in an interview, he said, “Is there a healthy way they can transition to that?”

The Hillcrest site, at St. Paul’s far northeast corner, is one of the city’s biggest redevelopment targets. The St. Paul Port Authority, which bought the site for $10 million, wants to build 1,000 units of housing there while also attracting businesses to provide 1,000 jobs.

On Friday, the St. Paul Planning Commission held a public hearing on the project’s master plan, including a rough layout of where housing, light manufacturing, a 5-acre public park, streets, trails and pedestrian paths would go.

According to Luis Pereira, planning director, the Planning Commission is expected to make a recommendation in April, with a City Council hearing and vote to come in May and June.

Just a few acres smaller than the former Ford plant site in St. Paul’s Highland Park, now called Highland Bridge, Hillcrest’s mix of housing and jobs is riding on what the Port Authority is able to build and attract.

Former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, now president and CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, urged the inclusion of single-family homes into the plan and offered the city a partnership to do so. Owning their own home is the best way for low-income families to build wealth, he said.

“By investing in affordable home ownership at the Hillcrest development, the city can make huge steps to close [economic] gaps for families of color,” he said.

Like the Harms, Kathleen Posus lives close to the site. She echoed a desire for developers to “respect the quiet nature of the existing neighborhood,” adding, “We the immediate neighbors feel unheard, un-respected and would like more involvement.”

Several speakers praised the Port’s ambition to make the development carbon neutral, through the use of solar, geothermal and efficient building design.

John Metza, an employer in the area, said he is excited at the project’s goals to add jobs and housing to the area — and to do it in an environmentally sustainable way. His growing business could add “twice as many jobs and employ twice as many people if we had more space.”

“The prospects for growth in our business are astronomical,” he said of his company that runs 100 percent off solar power. “This is a dream for a biz owner.”

Melissa Wenzel, co-chair of Sustain St. Paul, which is pushing for sustainable development, praised the Port Authority’s work so far, acknowledging that the Port has limited expertise developing housing but has a track record for creating good jobs.

She urged urgency in approving the project, saying “delaying this project will delay good paying jobs, particularly for East Siders.”

Wenzel added: “We can truly lead by example globally with this project… I cannot wait for this decision.”

Deborah Mitchell, however, echoed others who said developers and the city need to be sure they are eliciting a broad array of perspectives before hurtling ahead, including hearing from the area’s communities of color. Will the project require employers hire area residents from minority groups, she asked. Will enough housing be affordable for families of very low income?

Lisa Theis, executive director the of the area’s community council, said she is excited for the project to begin but wants to be sure area contractors are involved and area residents have the chance for the jobs and housing that are coming.

“This neighborhood has been the victim of a lack of investment and delayed investment for too long,” she said.

Julie Harms, who has lived in the area 20 years and in her house next to Hillcrest for more than four, liked Coleman’s offer to have Habitat for Humanity build some single-family homes. That, and some green space between the existing neighborhood and the new development, would go a long way to ease concerns, she said.

Her husband Jesse Harms, who works Just 10 blocks away, said, “We all are just asking for a little bit of a buffer.”

This post was originally published on this site

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