Dayton strikes amendment to eliminate urban reserve

One of the final issues heard by the current sitting council prior to Election Day, Nov. 6, was denied at the Dayton City Council meeting Oct. 16.
After many months, two public hearings and an initial consensus by the council to eliminate its urban reserve designation, the Dayton City Council rejected the comp plan amendment by a 3-2 vote, while a four-fifths vote in favor was needed for the measure to pass. The initial interest in changing the urban reserve designation came when the city learned the Metropolitan Council was amendable to the idea.
The process has been a lesson in understanding the complexities of development within the Met Council corridor. Additionally, a pro-growth/anti-growth sentiment has flared up within the city.

When the council approved the 2008 comprehensive plan, approximately 20 percent of the city’s land mass was designated as urban reserve encompassing almost 100 parcels owned by an uncertain number of property owners. The rest of the land in the city was given phased year designations for expected development. Throughout the process, city administration explained these phase designations are meant to serve as a guideline more than a strict adherence for the city. However, a change to the comp plan requires a four-fifths vote to be approved.
“Any time a developer wants to develop in urban reserve they are required to go back to Met Council with a comp plan amendment,” said Erin Stwora, assistant to the city administrator, during an Aug. 7 council meeting. “That provides them the opportunity to nitpick at the project. It also costs developers money.”
Stwora went on to explain representatives from Met Council said they were unlikely to look favorably on a single project within an urban reserve, making it potentially impossible for landowners to turn their properties into developments while designated as such. With Met Council expressing it was amenable to changing the urban reserve designation, the city began to pursue that route.

One of the big concerns was the property tax implication. Without having the answers for that, the council brought Hennepin County Assessor Melissa Potter to the Oct. 16 public hearing where she answered resident and council questions on the matter.
“The tax rate goes with the use of property whether it’s residential (1 percent) or agricultural (.5 percent),” said Potter.
She didn’t strictly say that urban reserve played no part in manufacturing the property tax rate for each property. However, she did say that the assessor’s office looks at the property as a whole, whether it backs up to a lake, river, park, wetland or other features. She also indicated that to a large extent, the tax rate is based on sales within the neighborhood.
Some individuals remained concerned about how the change would affect their tax rates. Nobody outside of the urban reserve spoke about their perspective on whether their neighbors in the urban reserve were getting a tax break simply because of the designation.

The council was divided on how removing the urban reserve designation would affect development. Mayor Doug Anderson argued that it would allow the city to have more control over the process.
Councilor Scott Hoke, who sits on a Met Council advisory committee, urged that the city doesn’t want the Met Council nitpicking every aspect of a development project; which it would have the opportunity to do for any development proposal that came forward on land in the urban reserve.
Councilor Phil Forseth said his favoring the removal of urban reserve should come as no surprise.
“I don’t think it’s fair to some of our residents who can’t develop when their neighbor across the street can,” he said. “We shouldn’t be picking winners and losers on this.”
Councilor Tim McNeil was not convinced the removal would provide more control or flexibility. He was concerned it would take away the city’s ability to do things like have large lots, small lots and clusters. He indicated that if one person in urban reserve wants to request to have their land be taken out, that they could do so for development purposes.
Betsy Ebner, owner of a 5-acre hobby farm in the urban reserve, spoke about this point stating she felt the city should develop in an orderly fashion. Having some property owners opt out of urban reserve without removing the entire designation left some concern that development could occur in a piecemeal fashion leaving the city without an overall planned look.
Councilor Rick Shermer was opposed to the way the whole process went down.
“It doesn’t feel right. With the new council coming, I don’t think it’s fair for this council to decide,” he said. “I think it’s time for new eyes.”
Mayor Anderson countered McNeil and Shermer’s concern stating that this isn’t a last-minute effort.
“I don’t think we’re rushing. We’ve spent months and months on this,” said Anderson.

Of the ten individuals who signed in to speak at the public hearing, all owned property within the urban reserve. Four were in favor of removing the designation and four were against it. Two did not specifically state their opinion. Of those two, one expressed his confusion on some points of the process but indicated he did want the opportunity to develop. The other individual’s comments and questions were directed specifically at tax implications.
Scott Weidema said he hasn’t currently applied to develop but when his neighbors outside of the urban reserve develop, he wants the same opportunities.
“I don’t feel I should have to be the buffer if the rest of the property around me develops,” he said.
Roland Smith, an urban reserve property owner who was against removing the designation, wanted the council to put off making a decision until after the election.
After hearing comments from residents about not wanting the Met Council to push the city around, Mayor Anderson spoke up in defense of the staff.
“This staff does an excellent job of standing up to Met Council. They have always been bulldogs for us,” said Anderson. “The fact is the state law gives Met Council control… they have force of law on their side.”
He went on to explain his viewpoint one more time before the vote was called.
“You don’t have to develop any faster than you want to but you do have to do it at a certain density and Met Council sets that density,” he said. “Change is inevitable. If you don’t manage it, you get taken over by it. The model cities are in now… it is economically not viable over the long-term [to not develop]. Growth will occur. Folks need to be smart enough to plan ahead so their city controls it, not the Met Council.”
Resident Erin Kline, also a property owner in the urban reserve, echoed Anderson’s comments.
“I hear concern that we are going to have development shoved down our throats,” she said. “We still have control over our own properties. I think it’s a good idea [to remove urban reserve]. It leaves control in our hands. I think we are limited now.”
When the vote was called, it didn’t garner four of the five votes required for approval. The three council members voting in favor of removing urban reserve were Mayor Doug Anderson, Councilor Scott Hoke and Councilor Phil Forseth. Opposing the resolution were Councilor Tim McNeil and Council Rick Shermer.

— The council cancelled the Oct. 30 meeting, which means the Oct. 16 meeting was the final meeting prior to elections. A resolution of denial of the amendment will be heard at the next council meeting schedule for Tuesday, Nov. 13.