Opposition to a new airport zoning ordinance proposed was expressed by city and state officials, business owners, developers, and residents at a public hearing hosted by the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) on July 23. About 60 people attended the hearing.
The Joint Airport Zoning Board (JAZB), established by the MAC to adapt the Mn/DOT model ordinance to the St. Paul Holman field location, expressed commitment to balancing a “reasonable standard of safety” with the surrounding social and economic land uses.
The stated purpose of the ordinance is “Preventing the establishment of Airport Hazards and eliminating, removing, altering, mitigating, or marking and lighting of existing Airport Hazards…” Although the draft ordinance proposes more lenient restrictions than the Mn/DOT model, in its current form the following key St. Paul assets would become “Airport Hazards”
• Many buildings, monuments, and landscaping on the Capitol grounds (new construction or plantings would require variances)
• Most of the buildings in downtown (new construction would require variances)
• Several acres in Lowertown that include the site of the proposed new Saint Paul Saints Stadium (plans for the stadium would likely fall through if the ordinance passes)
• Bird habitat in the Bruce Venture Nature Sanctuary (bodies of water or plantings that attract birds would be prohibited—the MAC has already removed and relocated several bald eagles)
• Businesses and residences in the historic Railroad Island neighborhood (new construction or plantings would require variances and plans for a 30 residence development on Rivoli Bluff and an event center near Payne Ave and E 7th Street would likely fall through)
• Equipment and above ground storage tanks used by the St. Paul Port Authority to ship millions of tons of Minnesota crops and other products down the Mississippi river
At the public hearing, concerns were expressed over the restrictions imposed by the ordinance, jurisdictional issues, and the variance process. City of St. Paul planner Allen Lovejoy, who represents the City of Saint Paul on the JAZB, proposed some changes to the draft ordinance that would mitigate some of the restrictions regarding the Capitol, Downtown, Lowertown, the Rivoli Bluff development, and birds.
Although Lovejoy’s proposals were well-received, former city council member Tom Dimond was applauded when he called the proposal “mind-boggling” and questioned its entire validity. He warned that it would eliminate the public process by turning land use decisions over to an appointed board rather than elected officials.
Business owners and officials representing the St. Paul Port Authority, the St. Paul Saints, St. Paul Building Owners and Managers, the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services, and others addressed the economic impact of the zoning ordinance.
Railroad Island residents expressed concern that the proposed ordinance would limit new development to parking lots instead of the proposed housing and event center that would help revitalize their struggling neighborhood. They also wondered how the ordinance would affect basic quality of life issues such as enjoying mature trees and birds on their properties.
State Representative Sheldon Johnson also questioned the necessity of the ordinance and challenged the MAC to “figure out their place in the bigger community instead of expecting the community to constantly figure out what they need to do to fit the airport.”
MAC representatives thanked participants for the comments and emphasized that this hearing was the beginning of a long public process. In addition to the testimony at the public hearing on July 23, JAZB will consider public comment received in writing before July 30. Future opportunities for public comment will be announced.
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