Streets.mn Voter Guide – Matt Perry, Ward 13

Our tenth response to the Streets.mn Voter Guide is from Matt Perry, candidate in Ward 13, which includes southwest Minneapolis.

1. What do you believe is the most significant land use and/or transportation issue facing Minneapolis in the next 5 years and how do you hope to address it in office?

First, thanks to Streets.mn for being a valuable resource to the community! I think the efforts of the people behind the blog have greatly elevated the community discussion of transportation and development and the website is the go-to place for these issues locally and nationwide. My thanks to Streets.mn for publishing my piece on construction projects last year and inviting candidates for city council to respond to these questions.

One of the most significant issues facing Minneapolis is the build out of the transit system. Minneapolis needs to work with its partners in coordinated efforts to plan and fund better transit services, including LRT, streetcars, enhanced bus and bus rapid transit. In order to compete globally, our City and the region must have a comprehensive transportation system. In addition to providing numerous environmental benefits, investment in transit will help to recruit talent and businesses, reduce travel times for all transportation users, and provide for economic opportunities for individuals and the City. As a Council Member, I will work on creating sustainable financing for transit as well as ensuring equity in the City’s transit investments.

In coordination with planning for improved transit, Minneapolis needs to make strategic decisions on land use and zoning in order to take advantage of transit improvements. Transit oriented development around transit stations and along corridors should be occurring as a transit line is built. In office, I am interested in improving our zoning code to continue to support traditional neighborhood design, less automobile oriented design, and a more user-friendly zoning code. I am also interested in exploring the use of form-based code and ways to improve the development review process, including ways to do better outreach with the community.

2. How do you think the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and drivers can be met most effectively? Would you prioritize one or more of these modes over others?

The City’s transportation policy document, Access Minneapolis, includes good guidance on how to manage competing interests when designing transportation projects. The chapter on design guidelines for streets and sidewalks, has a section called, “Develop a Citizen View of the Street”, which lays out a framework in which the City can examine and understand how a road is being used by a variety of users. For the policy to be more than good intentions, I will work to see it is consistently applied in spirit and intent in all road construction projects.

Working on road reconstruction projects with small and local businesses as the president of a business association and with residents as a neighborhood organization president, I have seen how competing interests can be pitted against each other even when those affected have shared values. As a councilmember, I will advocate for using context sensitive solutions as an approach to transit improvements. We need to collaborate with stakeholders to design projects that fit the physical setting and maintain safety for all modes of transportation. Cars have obviously been prioritized in the past and there are difficulties in incorporating better bicycle and pedestrian facilities into our existing system. However, in my experience, common sense and informed engagement by all stakeholders early in the design process can overcome these difficulties. It is vital for Minneapolis to have a comprehensive transportation system; as part of that, the City must have the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to make the City competitive.

The City has started to build better bicycle and pedestrian facilities and there are huge benefits to individuals and the community. Prioritization for building out bicycle infrastructure should also include how to pay for maintaining those systems.

3. Minneapolis has many plans for land use, transit, road and cycling infrastructure improvements in plans like Access Minneapolis, the Bicycle Master Plan and the city’s comprehensive plan. How do you think the city should fund these improvements in the future? Other than funding, are there other obstacles to realizing these plans and how would you address them?

To fund this infrastructure vision, the City will need to utilize every opportunity to further its plans, align existing resources, and utilize new tools. Funding is a substantial barrier to implementation as is the City’s internal capacity and alignment to implement these improvements.

We need to take a look at what financing tools are available, how well they align with various infrastructure improvements, and the tradeoffs associated with financing tools against the option of taking no action.  I support looking in more detail at financing tools like: Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”), parking surcharges, redirecting portions of the excess revenue from the parking fund, or other revenue streams to fund our capital infrastructure needs.

There are other obstacles to realizing many aspects of these plans aside from funding. There are missed opportunities when existing projects move forward. For example, resurfacing projects that fail to implement the bicycle improvements outlined in the Bicycle Master Plan are lost opportunities.  If we are improving a street, we should improve it to the greatest extent possible.

In addition, numerous residents may not be fully informed as to the balance and goals of the City’s transit and comprehensive master plans. Consequently, neither advocates nor opponents are served unless there is a common, open forum to analyze projects in the context of the locality and the master plans.  As a Council Member, I will be committed to infrastructure development project participation processes that encourage the identification of shared outcomes and the means for respectful and informed dialogue.  Resident participation is an asset that can only be maximized if there is adequate information about what factors are used in City decision making.

I would address these issues by improving City staff’s solicitation, collection, and analysis of stakeholder input.  Community stakeholders, by virtue of their investment, will see specific consequences, concerns, and potential solutions that might otherwise be overlooked by a City bureaucracy. We should tap into the expertise and energy of people who will live with a project and its results for years to come to help guide City actions.   Unlike many other levels of government, municipal planning and execution thrives on practical, “rubber-hits-the-road” information.   In my experience, a comprehensive plan is better achieved through comprehensive input of those affected.

4. As a council person, how would you respond to concerns about development impacts in your ward? Outside of your ward? Is there a recent controversial project (land use or transportation) that you would have handled differently?

Responding to concerns about development projects is one of the most important constituency services that a Council Member provides. Being a conduit of information to and from City planning staff to constituents is the first step in responding well to controversial projects. Gauging and weighing community interest is important in determining what type of response and leadership a Council Member should provide. Without influencing decisions about land use applications and zoning requests, I believe that a Council Member can provide leadership on high profile development projects by: advocating for community outreach by developers; empowering City staff to better respond to unexpected or substantial community interest and input; supporting neighborhood and community groups as additional sources of information for residents;  providing understandable, timely information to those affected by development; registering opinions; and letting people know how their input was used.  Council Members should be the informational nexus between the communities, developers, planners, City staff, and advocates.

While there is a long history in Minneapolis of Council Members deferring on projects outside of their ward to the representative Council Member, there are times when projects in a particular ward have implications for the City as a whole. To build a top tier 21st century City we need to get beyond this “ward protocol”. I have a track record of collaborative leadership and good working relationships with City elected officials and senior staff to make this possible.

The existing environment of Southwest Minneapolis makes it a desirable place for further investment and development, both with commercial and residential property. This presents unique challenges and circumstances in each of the neighborhoods that make up Ward 13. In the last five years we have seen an explosion of great eateries and small, locally owned retail businesses within walking or biking distance which has only increased the quality of life and desirability of this area. While we need to continue to encourage this type of investment, we must makes sure commercial and higher density residential growth is done in such a way that it preserves the unique character of Ward 13. Both objectives are not in opposition; it is a matter of process and policy.

For example, the Linden Corner project in Linden Hills is a recent high profile development in Ward 13. Located in the heart of “downtown” Linden Hills, the mixed-use project generated massive amounts of interest and huge pressure on the neighborhood group and City staff to respond to inquiries and comments. At the very same time, The Waters on 50th senior living project in the Fulton neighborhood was also being presented to that community. The latter project was approved with little contention while, at the same time, the Linden Corner project approval by the City Planning Commission was being appealed. In the case of the Waters on 50th project, the developer engaged with the public early on decisions for which there were opportunities to vary the plan, and changes were made as a result. Smart growth like the Waters on 50th project is done with fulsome, early engagement with community members, is respectful of the character of the neighborhood and develops higher residential density on transit corridors like 50th Street.

In the case of the Linden Corner project, as originally proposed, engagement came too late in the process.  Even then, participants generally felt constrained about what was truly variable in the project. What was presented to the City was too bulky for the site and surroundings.  It created an unreasonable impact for neighboring property owners.  It struck at the heart of the area’s character and ambiance, a “feel” that had been carefully developed and maintained by the businesses and residents over the years. A Small Area Plan process is now underway that includes neighborhood business nodes like 43rd and Upton.  I’m optimistic for the community to come together through this planning process to provide clarity on a vision for its future.

For high profile commercial development projects, I will advocate for better assistance for the community to review and comment early in the process. Neighborhood groups are the entities that are typically well-versed to be the vehicle in which any developer communicates with the immediate neighbors and community; but as volunteers, these groups cannot be solely responsible for managing the engagement process.  As Council Member, I will advocate for enhanced community engagement services from the City’s Planning department and Community Engagement department to assist in the community when dealing with controversial projects. This has to happen early on in the process. Residents should not have the full weight of responsibility and cost in making sure the character of their neighborhoods is maintained. Likewise, developers should be provided a sense of what is desired early on so they can plan and invest accordingly. This approach leads to development that grows the City and is embraced by the community.

5. Where is your favorite place to walk (in or outside of Minneapolis)?

As much as I love walking around the lakes or walking to the plentiful nearby neighborhood business nodes, my favorite place to walk is through neighborhoods checking out yards and chatting up people. Our lakes, trails and parks in Southwest are a fantastic amenity for the area. I think our neighborhoods are an equally wonderful asset. As someone who has tended a front and back yard for many years, I’m always grateful to those who, through their labor of love, make our neighborhood streets so beautiful.

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