consultants are sandburs

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Nest Egg and the Nuisance.

The Anoka County Library has many investment advisory books saying putting the investment money into more rather than less house is arguably unwise. Arguably, the opposite is true. A small businessman in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, a rug cleaning, repair, and fire/water damage insurance contractor, second generation, with a steam truck and a rug cleaning machine-plant gentle enough for the worn antique Persian collectible carpets of the most confirmed Yuppie households, advised employees - if nothing else I would buy a modest condo - something to establish a credit history beyond consumer debt.

This is the nest egg part. The - I inherited this acreage from my kin, when I age and cannot keep it up I want to see I have funds for my last years and something to pass on to the children. It is my right. I shepherded this land, worked it, and should not have brueaucrats tying my hands. Or - I bought it I own it. I use it as I see fit. Why's your nose in my business? All that.

On the other hand you cannot open a tannery or nuclear waste reprocessing site where you please. Establishing polar extremes hardly helps, as is obvious. Yet, what is land use regulation law and the law of nuisance other than imposed rules saying you must conform to the rights others have over your land and buildings and how you use them. Whether the BNSF trains blow their warning whistles at night is a property use issue not involving real estate. But is it a nuisance, or a safety benefit?

Leave aside the opportunism of those successful in gaining a hold on reins of power, in order to impose their development will on others.

It happens. It happens a lot. It happens too much. But leave it aside for now.

Here are a selection of photos. I intend them to suggest we need a spectrum of consensus, cooperation, tolerance, and concession if Ramsey's 2008 Comprehensive Plan is to not end up dictated by the deep pockets - the ones we left aside - the ones able in a weak and incoherent community to gain a hand on the reins sufficient to satisfy their wills and profit motives.

If you do not want the gold to simply rule, and who does but the rich men, then you have to have views on the following photo diversity, captioned by me since I put it together.

It is my statement on Well Planned and Controlled [but diverse] Housing - an earlier Comp Plan goal, but without phrasing it in it's much, much, much more presumptive "Guiding Principles" form:

"A Place for Well Planned and Controlled Growth."

This is the first thing I write looking at earlier "Comp Plan Guiding Principles," Ralph Brauer unobtrusively tasked me and others at the beginning of the most recent RAMSEY3 session to consider.

I may write further, on my blog, about the "Guiding Principles." Or I may submit for publishing consideration other thoughts or images to the RAMSEY3 people, in hope it will invite others to submit items the same way. For reasons I will not get into, this set of photos might not be approprate for inviting publication by those people.

These are pictures from three overlapping series of photo sessions - taken days apart this past fall - of a range of things I have edited to a few items (including taking out home pictures showing campaign signs from the last election). Here are the photos captioned my way:

Dense housing does not have to look ugly:

But if you try hard enough, you can make it Super ugly:

A Ramsey cul-de-sac front yard and grounds, with space from the neighbors, and owners doing autumn yard work:

A Ramsey back yard in autumn, where I live, a tree-yard more than a sun-yard:

Another Ramsey back yard, about a mile from where I live:

Ramsey - Horse acreage:

RV acreage:

No acreage:

There are more rooftops in Ramsey.

More rooftops, indeed there are more. Have your taxes gone up, or down?

What is propaganda? What is truth?

What have you been told? Who has reaped a benefit or profit?

A Ramsey resident worried about his future.

I am worried. Which unit will I be moved into? The one next to the unit John Feges bought? Next to Ms. Haas-Steffen, her unit? The Elvigs? The Gamecs? Which one did the Kuraks move to? The Millesses? Who will be my near neighbors - which project or landscape architect? Which Ramsey or Met Council planner? Who did they build this for if not themselves? I'd feel out of place there. You know, I'm like the bear in the woods, but I - I use a pasture.

Which unit did John Feges buy? Ms. Haas-Steffen? The Kuraks? The Elvigs - they headed the task force? What's to it besides per acre profits on raw land?

Friday, March 30, 2007

RAMSEY3: A meeting notice. Propaganda, paranoia, dodge the other's bad dream, AND don't let the folks with the gold make the rules.

This posting is revised and extended from its first publishing. It is a long post. It rambles.

First, I am not bashing RAMSEY3. I like the process more, as I see more of it, and I do not share all criticisms others feel.

I am not calling it propaganda although I initially skeptically speculated it might turn out to be that. Some are feeling that way now, propagandized, and they must be clear to not propagandize one another or lose sight of how the process will work.

The city council is the collective multi-headed 800 pound gorilla in the process --- staff and people can talk but mayor and councilmembers vote "anywhere they want to." Any voice that is not a strongly numerous voice raising some degree of consensus can easily go unheard because crabgrass talks too. Behind the scenes crabgrass often can talk its loudest.

There will be a 2008 comprehensive plan. Pat Trudgeon and I agree on that, and I do not ask him to agree with any other thinking of mine. That would be improperly premature now, given his place. He has been receptive to hearing my views and courteous in the process - not laughing outright in my face at least. Pat is intelligent, and whatever he and staff suggest I truly hope the council listens, rather than listening to friendlies and relatives only, and dinking around a lot behind the scenes with the staff during its deliberations. Leave them alone while they're working, since you can always vote against an honest and unbiased staff proposal.

I do repeat my entire thinking [derivative of Noam Chomsky] by reference - we should know what propaganda is and how it is done, so that we can be vigilant against it being an influence on us.

Second there are those who've had their bad dreams amplified and have represented interests of those with meat in the fire. More on that later, for now, an image:

That's the only image I will use. Make of it what you will. And I will meet my sister's challenge to do one post without any direct reference or link back to statuary along Sunwood Drive.

A meeting. Next Thursday, April 5, 7 pm, in the Alexander Ramsey Room, where the RAMSEY3 sessions are being held; a parallel discussion group will meet. It is a concerned citizens group as was the RAMSEY3 initiators when they were first meeting.

Bob Ramsey spoke about this meeting at the end of the Leslie Oberholtzer RAMSEY3 presentation segment, last night, Thursday, March 29. He said, "Go ahead and post notice, the bigger the turnout the better," and he and others said, "Call it the Bob RAMSEY3 Initiative," so for lack of a formal name that is what it shall be called here.

It sounds interesting and I plan to attend. It appears a group of attendees at RAMSEY3 are feeling propagandized-to and want to discuss alternatives. Ralph Brauer was encouraging of parallel meetings with the only hope being that there be a single well attended and evenly represented hash-it-out-over-days open meeting as now contemplated for early in May, aka "RAMSEY2."

Notice of next Thrursday's splinter group meeting was given with a hope being that any such parallel meetings will be impartially but prominently noted on the City's website and that the ECM and daily papers might report an across-the-board pre-meeting community wide notice for the extended two-day open meeting session. I am certain the Ramsey Resident will be emphatic about that opportunity. I expect the City will be fair in posting notice of citizen efforts comparable to that of the initiating RAMSEY3 citizen group. It's a fairness thing that the city should do so (unless all the animals on Animal Farm truly are unequal).

There was some distress, short of acrimony, over use and intended meanings behind the phrase "new urbanism" and whether this phraseology grows legs or not as a lightning rod of disagreement might be clear from attending the April 5 session.

I don't like slogans either way, but that is a personal preference, and words admittedly have to be used in order to communicate. And terminology abbreviates the process, but can also obscure. "RAMSEY3" was giving a name, without any emotional loading, either way, except that it sounded like planner-speak, and got my hackles up initially. Polemics and rhetoric don't help, although some might wonder, "Who of all people is he to be saying that?"

[Note: In error, I hit the "publish" toggle, instead of "preview," so the preceding is left largely intact, but added to below, as originally intended.]

Oberholtzer's presentation. Leaving for now the "Bob RAMSEY3 Initiative" as sufficiently noticed, Ms. Oberloltzer discussed alternative ways of looking at zoning specifications beyond the traditional zoning code format - including use of graphics. I expect Met Council would be receptive to a Comp Plan looking at zoning that way, and it makes sense. It can allow a much closer rein on developer activity, without taking profit-making out as a taking without due process and fair compensation. With a clear plan we still might need a stronger judicial sense of "nuisance" in terms of how a community - a government - can constrain how property is used without umbrage successfully taken by the preachers of the gospel of "rigths of private property" meaning I squeeze all the bucks I can get, screw the public interest, which is something of an attitude I feel we've seen in Ramsey.

I know Tom Kurak in a deposition explained that the per acre price you can get for housing acreage is maximized if you can maximize the density of housing you can put up. If he explained that in a deposition, under oath, he knows and believes it and his actions consistently bear that out. We should understand it in reviewing Kurak conduct, and deciding what to do next about the situation that is "Town Center," the resultant situation after the Kurak land interest has been cashed out by them and bought into by the LLC that is involved in the pending Chapter proceeding that was initiated shortly before Bruce Nedegaard's death.

Another Ramsey problem is the existence of vested development proposals - plats - that have been approved but are currently dormant, and how that kind of interest plays out against the changing of the rules underlying Ramsey's Comp Plan for 2008.

The meeting had the normal range of interests, those liking it as it is and rural owners wanting more chance to develop.

I cannot understand why single family homes on 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 acre lots in some rural locations are not in the present plan - they make all the sense in the world with well and septic tank services permanently allowed in place, if they are on land having adequate perking properties and should work successfully even in clay soils (while much if not most of Ramsey is very permeable sand). Certainly much of Ramsey is so developed, it works, and it should not be altered simply to generate greater Met Council cash flows. That would be intensely unfair to existing residents, who came here for a reason - low taxes, nice lots, and affordable homes.

The other thing I cannot understand is the "growth is inevitiable" spiel.

That's false, and a self-fulfilling prophecy if believed too extensively. It and an "everyone knows" attitude by too many in authority positions has led to the Town Center being the disaster it so far is and likely may remain.

There has been Nedegaard's bankruptcy and death, a market slump, a chapter proceeding surviving Nedegaard and involving his probare estate, and an activist micromanaging city adminisrator's departure; all of that combined with super ugly crammed-in unappealing stuff built along Ramsey Blvd at Hwy 116 and southward. Prospects appear quite grim.

Death is inevitable, but growth, no.

Yes Lake Elmo got sued and lost, but now the Governor wants to be vice-president and would probably not want his Met Council alienating town citizenry and the publicity that would go with it. Like the Nancy Reagan anti-drug crusade, just say no. Why not try it at least? You might really like it.

And when I see "Growth is inevitable" being said by David Elvig on the Town Center Task Force (and then on Council while routing stuff to the Gun Club and with raw land in the family now or at least before he reached city council); or the Kuraks while Pattiann Kurak was on council and over half the Town Center land was Kurak land; or Natalie Steffen while on Met Council when Met Council wants to earn cash flow from sewer connects and usage fees - I become a skeptic thinking I am being propagancized by folks with lots and lots and lots of meat in the fire - and I reflect back to the one image shown earlier.

Of course, Ms. Oberholtzer did not mention names; but as discussions at the end unfolded David Elvig sure looked to me to have a real sour expression on his face, and he left quietly while discussions were ongoing. Probably to confer about the Bob RAMSEY3 Initiative; who with, I can only speculate. That covers the Elvig and Steffen situation. I post no Kurak photo here. That is because other than a photo of the merciless "Kurak" Klingon character from Star Trek, which does not resemble Pattiann in looks or personality, the only Kurak image I found on the web was the one I have already used in the blog post just before this one, Wed. March 21, and I will not repost it.

The bottom line on the Oberholtzer presentation - which many of the critical attendees at the Thursday session missed - is that the methodology she discussed is absolutely and completely agnostic as to what the plan is, and she only explained how there are better more cogent ways for city staff to package and present the plan and its requirements, procedurally and without regard to whatever the plan is in its general design and policy dimensions. And such innovative ways differ from traditional verbal-only code requirements and listings. It seems much more sensible to do what she described, "form-based planning" or "form-based zoning" being the buzzword terminology she used, and why would it not be wiser and easier to let the crabgrass faction know what will or will not fly without the common and extensive and expensive PUD (planned unit development) proposals and reviews and revisions which always suggest there are exigent reasons to treat this particular project as a special case for deviating from the written code [and surprisingly allowing greater not lesser housing density when the dust has settled and the smoke and mirrors are seen through]?

It was the best presentation of the three so far, and did not start with tub-thumping about the density is good and auto emissions are bad beliefs and how it is more costly for people to live with separation from the sounds and activity of their neighbors in a way closer to rabbits in the wild than crammed in like rabbits in a hutch being fattened for slaughter. The block I live on has homes on 1+ acres, with separation between neighbors. And it appears everyone on the block values that trait highly, whether sun lots or treed lots are the individual preference.

I think that's what most people mean when expressing growth-related worries concerning "the character of existing neighborhoods." Yes, you can only get someplace interesting by auto, and yes some (myself included) hate autos and would prefer greatly walkability, but the point is the changes are being "done" to the people already here and while you do not own the neighbors' land you have some rights to say no to nuisances. Ultimately, where the lines are to be drawn in that exchange is always the detailed area where the Devil resides.

Getting a chance to speak with Ralph Brauer: After the session I had about five minutes to talk with Pat Trudgeon and then five with Ralph. With Pat, he listens, but must listen to everyone and cannot prejudge the process at this point - that's his job and he's been doing it soundly, so far. Talking with Ralph is a pleasant experience. Summarizing: He grew up in Ely where everything there of interest was within a walkable distance; his family's on the Rum on Waco in River's Bend so his neighborhood is not going to change and he's not having any meat in the fire that way; earlier he could have bought a 'tonka home but it was not his or the family's style; the entire Comp Plan process is about who decides what, and how; and with differing priorities if folks cannot reach some general consensus among themselves, strongly, then it becomes like divide-and-conquor politics - a common phenomenon - where the deep pocket propagandizers and rules. The Alliance for Ramsey's Future astroturfs, etc. The wealthy and well-positioned make the decisions by influence and acquiescence. Ralph did not say that as much as not disagreeing too strongly with my expressing my thinking along that line.

And I lived in Seattle one diagonal block from where I worked and 1-1/2 blocks from a Puget Sound Coop having bulk health foods, a deli, a diverse stock, range-fed beef, and excellent organic and regular produce. They had bagels delivered fresh every morning from a bagel bakery, and a drugstore and bakery were across the street. Walkable, I know walkable. Walkability is great. A half-mile away from home there was a peninsula park on Lake Washington with acres of old growth timber to hike around in and with a perimeter path popular in the mornings with elderly walkers while being a flat 1-1/2 mile loop for joggers who could close out a run, if they wanted with a half mile up-hill 25 degree saunter. A supermarket was in walking distance (a mile for me or more), a used book merchant was closer than the coop, and the neighborhood has now attracted Thai and Somali restaurants and a walkable rail line with a walkable community center where I could shoot a basketball in an empty gym with two courts and an exercise equipment room. I know the real thing. This town center thing is not the real thing. It is a plasticized imitation as best as I see it if built out, complete with over-dense housing in the burbs; and who wants any of that? Walkable is great if it naturally has evoved; but planned and architected, give me a break.

Closing thoughts. There is one clear and persistent fact in RAMSEY3 and all of the Comp Plan buildup - if there is no heavy and irresistable pressure from the people, than the golden rule applies. Not your Biblical one, but the other one, the pragmatic one - the guys with a hold on the gold make the rules --- that dispicable version of golden rule.

It's reality, so absorb it now and be willing to listen civilly and to concede things here and there as the other factions of interested persons will have to do in meeting your main prioirities.

Either do it that way or have no voice and then there's no later justification for complaining about a cram-down. You allow it, you court it by either indifference or indecisiveness and devisiveness --- or you sit in the driver's seat as a united indivisible citizenry. Chances are slim it will be reached but if not tried, it certainly will be the crabgrass overgrowing everything in its path and there were few kind words spoken at that Thurdsay session about Brookfield; yet Brookfield was done to us, unanimously by Council, and only two seats have changed since then.

It's the Ben Franklin adage true today, we hang together or they will hang us separately. Ya betcha.

The market has changed, but the market cycles and liquidity is the only pinch on crabgrass - it dies back a bit in some places but it's not like a double dose of Roundup either.

The last thing Ralph mentioned - as one task I owed him and everyone else, is to look and think very carefully about the single page "guiding principles" from the most recent Comp Plan. I have not done that, I will do it, and I will not post about it in anything resemblining a shoot first and ask questions later manner.

The one thing that got my hackles up, not a deal killer but a red flag statement probably not intended as such, was Ms. Olberholtzer's closing remark some may have missed, essentially saying, "You can envision radiating or extending out from your Town Center into the remainder of Ramsey in a coherent way," something like that. For me and any others who never drank the Town Center Koolaid and despise it like a cancer likely to spread, that was not the best wrap-up comment in the world.

FINALLY: I may revise and contract my remarks, and submit them through Ralph to the RAMSEY3 webmaster. He and the other RAMSEY3 initiators have been clear that one hope is that people will take time to suggest ideas in the form of an op-ed or letter to the editor submission which may be posted there in whole or in part. Everyone with an opinion or a stake in the outcome should consider that way of enriching the discussion and diversifying it. Elvig and his family, and John Feges, ideally, would post their views that way - as they are stakeholders as much as a townhome owner or someone owning a single family home subject to a mortgage rather than acres of raw land, horse acreage owners, or those with other unique and disappearing diverse kinds of lands.

I have heard that some spots along the Rum and Trott Brook watershed were sacred gathering places in pre-colonial times, as well as fur trading locations, and I would hape that anyone with knowledge of this kind of thing would send or route information to the RAMSEY3 peolpe.

The closing thought - The Boy Scouts property must be preserved as woodland greenspace, not wilderness, but subject to ongoing low-wear use by the scouts in ways mandated so that even the most nefarious crabgrass could not gain a foothold over its developable future.

End of rant.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Faces of Yesteryear - Where Are They Now? What is their reality?

Visions and Revisions -

Ben only smiles - he has no visions to revise - he endures.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Show Support for a Watchdog Effort

And get your t-shirt free:

main view - back


Check it out, and get yours, here.

And sign up for the email. It is worth getting even if, as with me, you do not agree with everything Harold says or believes. He keeps an eye on things, and reports. That is worth a lot and you can always ask the people on the other side their views for a balanced view for yourself. Since I got the free t-shirt, Harold Hamilton gets a free plug -- in his own words, explaining his purpose:

Many taxpayers don’t know that our local governments spend millions of tax dollars every year on things like public relations teams, lobbyists, and junkets to places like Hawaii.

Much of this money is used to create misleading propaganda to manufacture support for dubious mega-projects like Northstar commuter rail and the proposed Vikings stadium.

Since there seemed to be no place to turn for the “other side” of these issues, I created the Anoka County Watchdog.  My intent is to create a one-stop-shop where concerned taxpayers can find fact-supported information and other resources to counter the governmental machine.

Courtesy of Harold Hamilton, I shall attend Ramsey3 sessions suitably dressed.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Habitat for Humanity in Ramsey. Good. The Market Slump. Not a problem, but an opportunity.

Why is it planner-architect renderings all look almost exactly alike and all use the same pastel pallete? Are they all drawn by a machine owned by Glen Taylor and housed somewhere in China?

This one's from an interesting March 5 Strib article on the housing market for suburban dense housing, and is from a project not in Ramsey's Town Center, but in Eagan - Eagan Village Plaza, to be precise about its actual imaginative name.

"Density can get you if you don't watch out;" or "Rentals, rentals, oh my, oh my, possibly here in our owner-occupied planned Town Center," were two alternative headlines I thought of using for this post. The article explains things but I will excerpt because Strib archives things so that after two weeks you can read it only via paid "archive" access:

Putting the 'urban' in suburbia stalls as condo demand slows
Many suburbs aiming to create high-energy, walkable urban villages along the lines of downtown Stillwater or 50th and France in Edina are being forced to rethink their plans.

By David Peterson, Star Tribune
• 612-673-4440 •
Last update: March 04, 2007 – 9:44 PM

The movement to plant a bit of the city in Twin Cities suburbs is wilting. A chill in the market for high-priced condos has hampered the attempts of suburbs to create or revive traditional village centers, where people can walk from tightly clustered homes to restaurants and parks.

In cities such as Eagan and Roseville, developers have withdrawn their proposals altogether. In others, such as Apple Valley and Minnetonka, they are backing away from upscale condos in favor of apartments, leaving cities with the choice of either changing their vision or starting all over.

Along with the rest of the new-housing industry, "the condo market's in the toilet right now," said John Cox, deputy city administrator in Champlin, where a long-dreamed-of town center project is languishing. "We're not going to buy out apartment buildings, only to put up more apartment buildings."

And now get this, Ramsey residents [including Ben the Ramsey taxpayer], as if you need a Strib reporter to tell you:

With millions already invested, not to mention years of angry public hearings, city officials are disheartened.

"This is such a tough process, over so many years, with so much emotion," sighed Danna Elling Schultz, a City Council member in Hastings, where riverfront condos aimed at enlivening a historic downtown are on hold. "I don't want the bottom to fall out now."

Well, I want the bottom to fall out in Ramsey, if it means rethinking the Kurak-porkbarrel project (recall how Pattiann's 2000 campaign literature talked of quaint gazebos). Rethinking could alter it into something better than what DR Horton has curiously put on the ground in hopes of selling the stuff to somebody ["Legoland," at Hwy 116 and Ramsey Blvd, the poly-colored monstrosity that somebody made the Devil do, so we would thank God for our calmer homes and appreciate that we are housed elsewhere].

Rental-wise, Strib's Peterson continued:

In Minnetonka, city officials cautiously surveyed nearby residents when the developer of a controversial village center in the Glen Lake area reported recently that he failed to sell a single condo in several months of marketing, and wanted to switch to apartments instead.

The result: 72 hostile reactions, but also 46 expressions of strong support.

"Minnetonka has no place to walk around in," said Chris Pears, who lives in the city and teaches at Minnetonka High School. "I love the fact that Edina has a little 'downtown' with a cinema, where a family can walk around and buy an ice cream. I'd prefer condos, but what I really want is enough activity to upgrade a tired area and bring more nice things in."

Still, the very notion of introducing what [Apple Valley developer Eric] Pedersen speaks of as "inner-city densities" to the suburbs draws plenty of resistance on its own, without centering the projects on apartments on top of it.

"Not likely," said planner Jeff Smyser, of Lino Lakes, when asked about the prospect of switching some planned condos to rentals to accelerate that suburb's slow-moving town center project. "Our council didn't want the town center to be primarily rental. An important part of it was that it be owner-occupied."

The pause in what felt a year or two ago like a mad rush to build ambitious town centers is a testament in part to the complexity of creating them at all, said Michael Lander, who runs the Lander Group, a company specializing in urban lofts and condos.

"In the 'burbs, you buy a cornfield, put up some houses or a Home Depot, run a piece of asphalt to it, and you're set," he said. "But we're just now figuring this new stuff out."

Last year a landowner invited Lander to diagnose the state of the highly touted town center project in Ramsey, past Anoka along Hwy. 10. Two years after the plan for that project won a national urban design award from the American Institute of Architects, it's "struggling," he said.

"The master plan was very well done ... with beautiful parks and sidewalks and well-formed spaces," he said. "But it turns out that's very expensive to do. Those things aren't free."

Amen, Brother Lander. And from across the road from the oppulent new city hall Ben continues to smile and watch over who's going to be paying how much for how long, for what the Council's done so far, not to mention what it still intends.

Indeed, it's an apt subject for a separate posting, older Ramsey homes on big lots, and who lives there vs. density's okay, for them. I have some photos, and will post about it. Not for now, howerver.

In contrast to density is great, there are low income people are not extinct thoughts, in particular Habitat for Humanity and its praiseworthy efforts, including a presence in Ramsey:

Click on the image to enlarge it [or right click and open a new window] to read the text in this Jan-Feb 2007 Ramsey Resident p.5 highlight of the effort. I expect the location might be at the vacant single-family sites diagonally across from the Ramsey Market [Tom Thumb store] at 149th & Ramsey Blvd. There, infrastructure looks in place, but the building effort has been in abeyance for months.

Habitat for Humanity is a good thing to have, and if located there, it is part of the walkable community for the Ramsey Market, but I would not want to lug three Coborn's shopping bags over that Town Center corner-to-corner walk, in extreme cold or heat. But - it's away from the maddening crowd, further from the tracks, so bless it for that.