Accept the Consequences of Opposing Density

The Lakes of Blaine

If you oppose density, don’t be surprised if you don’t gain any of the benefits of density.

In Blaine, there has been a very suburban kerfuffle: Within a large, multi-builder housing development, there were several commercial plots. Despite the housing boom in the area, no one would step up to develop them as commercial, because no one wanted to occupy a potentially developed property. Why?

Lack of density, of course. While most of the development was planned for low- and medium-density housing, one of the biggest protests in Blaine City Council history was when a builder proposed a 157-unit luxury apartment complex on a nearby plot. Nooooo, not luxury apartments! Why, they can ruin a neighborhood! They might be… too luxurious? (Of course not. They might somehow become Section 8.)

Due to neighborhood protest, the plan for this added density was shot down.

Now, many of the same residents who opposed the apartments are shrieking that they were “misled” because they were prooooomised retail! And now those mean builders want to build more homes instead! One city council member bemoaned people who invested in homes based on a “dream” who were being denied that dream.

The reality is that without high-density housing nearby, no one is going to want to be a retail unit in that neighborhood. Even small retail with high-end appeal (childcare? yoga? coffee?) requires a degree of density to support the cost of the property and reasonable financials. Neighbors have suggested businesses they would like to see, but have no real explanation for the lack of business plan that can support such businesses given density and traffic patterns.

Neighbors now want the city to build them another park, because even low-density housing matching their own is a terrible idea, apparently. The city has basically told them to pound sand, because money. The city has already supported Lakeside Commons Park, which has not been without its own controversies.

To residents, there is surely a plus to the city allowing the change of the properties from commercial to residential: there’s going to be another parking lot.

And that’s what you get when you oppose density. A nice parking lot.

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!

41 thoughts on “Accept the Consequences of Opposing Density

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    This may well be my favorite all time snarky post on!

    Has anyone proposed something like mixed retail/residential in the commercial area? A few floors of lux apartments or condo’s with balcony’s might, along with the low density housing, support a 1st floor of retail.

    1. Julie Kosbab Post author

      The mayor tried just about everything. Those parcels have been sitting for almost 10 years now, and due to their inaccessibility to anyone save someone living nearby or someone with significant intent, there simply isn’t a financially workable interest.

      A lot of the neighbors have been suuuper helpful about what kind of businesses they’d enjoy, but aren’t willing to subsidize via the HOA. Same with their park/pool suggestions

      A decent luxury apartment building, possibly fewer units, with ground floor retail would have probably been the best middle ground, but the residents nearby who had destroyed the original apartment proposal were against anything but pure retail all along.

      The people who ended up surprised that the development set-aside park ended up becoming what amounts to a regional park facility, I have sympathy for. They didn’t expect the mayhem that the park represents. But the people who shot down density but want their latte up close and personal? Meh.

  2. I Am A Person

    It’s **definitely** not an outrageous false dichotomy to suggest that the choice is between retail-less sprawl and luxury apartments. And the author **definitely** didn’t present an outrageous, classist, condescending, straw-horse misrepresentation of people’s arguments against high-end, so-called “luxury” housing.

    “Why, they can ruin a neighborhood!” Why yes, they can, and if you can’t see why that is, you’re probably working for the developers. Or just sheltered.

    “They might be… too luxurious?” This bit of snark is a bald-faced attempt to distort the simple truth that “luxury” = EXPENSIVE. It means housing for a privileged few. It perpetuates inequality. The author does not even attempt to engage with this glaring fact. That’s just rhetorical laziness.

    Thanks for another progressive, community-building article, !!! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ #BestLocalBlog

    1. Julie

      The opposition to the apartments was based significantly on density. There was never any hope nearby residents would spurt affordable or market rate housing.

      Entry cost in that development for a coach home is above $200k.

      The opposition to density might have been greater with market rate apartments, to be honest.

      1. I Am A Person

        Julie, you didn’t write the article about just Blaine. You wrote it about opposition to “luxury” development projects — which you disingenuously refer to as “density”, as though density-in-a-vacuum was more important than socioeconomic realities, because “urbanism” — everywhere. Don’t hide behind the fact that you chose a particularly harmless example with this community in Blaine. Your article is a crass attack on all communities that oppose “luxury” developments, and no amount of hair-splitting in the comments threads is going to change that.

        1. Julie Kosbab Post author

          It wasn’t JUST luxury developments, although it was in Blaine.

          The opposition to apartments — unless they’re cuddly senior rentals — is a serious issue in a lot of suburbs. In infill situations, they’re essential. In new developments, they help distribute housing in ways to support essential (and non-essential) services. Ever seen what teacher’s aides make? They aren’t renting luxury units. Neither are the newly divorced mothers of 3 who took time off from a career to raise the kids, now re-entering the workforce while fighting for a fair divorce.

          Apartments aren’t a “them.” They’re an us. The socioeconomic reality is that if you don’t integrate communities, you have serious economic mobility issues, as well as serious business issues.

    2. Adam Tauno Williams

      > attempt to distort the simple truth that β€œluxury” = EXPENSIVE
      > It means housing for a privileged few.

      And stand-alone single-family housing is NOT expensive?

      A neighborhood really does not have many choices; take the density options available from developers or don’t. Making the good the enemy of the perfect makes parking lots [a not-good].

      1. Julie Kosbab Post author

        By the way, I found the coverage of the 2008 Council meeting in which the apartment plan was denied.

        A few key things:
        – residents expressed concern that some of the apartments might be let to Section 8 people
        – residents were concerned that apartments would reduce property values
        – residents were concerned that unit sizes were not big enough to be considered “luxurious”
        – residents were concerned that apartments should not be near the lake

        The area was flex zoned and designated high density in the original 2003 plan for the area (which is the same plan designating the retail zoning retail). Residents and builders opposed the apartment plan because they felt that renters would devalue the area.

        The local press is pretty fair to local residents. For meetings I’ve attended, they’re fair with quote selection. When residents sound classist or ridiculous, it tends to be their own fault — not the media’s.

        The original project may have been overly massive, but it’s not surprising the developer didn’t come back with something smaller. The meeting was very much opposed to rental apartments in general, as the mayor himself cited in his own statements at the meeting. With a council that always falls on the side of “property values,” the effort of a new plan for rentals was likely to be fruitless, so they moved on to more single-family plans.

        1. I Am A Person

          In other words, what you’re saying is that you did the relevant research AFTER you erroneously wrote the article as an attack on people who oppose “luxury” housing.

    3. Adam MillerAdam

      I don’t know anything about this development, but are you saying that opposition to these apartments came from progressive concern about their price point? Because that would rather surprise me in Blaine.

      1. I Am A Person

        No, I’m saying that the article uses Blaine as a straw-horse example in an attempt to show that everyone who opposes “luxury” housing — which, outside of Blaine, does indeed include many with progressive concerns about price points — are really just opposed to density. And therefore, the article seems to suggest, the REAL progressives are those who are pro-building anything that contributes to “density,” socioeconomic consequences be damned.

        1. Michael RodenMichael Roden

          I really do believe this article was written just specifically about the outrageous situation, and maybe suburban politics and land-use in general. I don’t think it had any implication about current urban politics (Lyn-Franklin)

          1. Julie Kosbab Post author

            Yeah. Lyn-Franklin is different. That area isn’t necessarily struggling with a lack of density.

            There is absolutely a cult of property value worship in Blaine. Which may be why I can’t have yard chickens.

          2. Adam MillerAdam

            I had understood the proposal Lyn-Franklin proposal to be market rate but not necessarily “luxury.” I had also understood most of the opposition to be about effect on neighbors sight lines and property values and traffic concerns.

            Although I’m sure there or other well-meaning objections to it as well.

  3. W.M.

    The headline should really be “Accept the Consequences of Opposing Luxury Apartments”. Ew.

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I don’t see any reason to rush in to changing the zoning. I think I’d let it stand and tell the developers that they should have considered the viability of retail here before making promises and tell the neighborhood folks that if they want retail they’ll need to accept it as part of a mixed use place with a few floors of residential on top (which I would prefer to single story strip mall retail anyway). Give the developers a few years to come up with something that works and residents time to think about having nice retail with apartments or nothing.

    In the mean time tell the developers to meet with the neighborhood kids and build them a great BMX track and playhouse village (mixed use of course).

    1. Julie

      Note that the parcel proposed for the apartments is NOT the retail parcel. The original proposed parcel for the apartments has been alternatively developed as single family homes.

      This parcel has been designated retail for 10 years. So they haven’t really rushed matters particularly. Housing demand in Blaine remains very strong, so it’s natural for the banks holding the land to want to move forward. The development resources exist, especially labor.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Yep, still no reason to rush. The residents have been kind of misled and screwed over. I’d wait for a solution that works for them. The banks choose to get in to this with the plan for retail, if they’re not going to do retail then they’ll need to do something thats fair to the residents.

  5. Jessica Schaum

    If you want to see dysfunction/entertainment, please add yourself to “The Lakes of Blaine Radisson” facebook group. During the official public process of rezoning- one resident asked when they should show up to the City Council meeting to have a vote. Their own vote!!

    After cherry picking the ideal businesses they wanted to see locate there (Kowalski’s and Lunds were my favorite) instead of homes, then a few came up with a private indoor pool idea.

  6. Michael RodenMichael Roden

    “Luxury” apartments are no more luxurious or expensive than the surrounding single family homes (which all externalities considered are incredibly expensive). Don’t worry, the Rockefellers aren’t moving to Blaine any time soon. This fake sense of populism being used to oppose growth drives me nuts.

    Also, it seems has acquired its first troll. *sniff* “it’s just growing up so quickly..”

    1. Julie Kosbab Post author

      Based on the original rents proposed, they were somewhat more affordable than the surrounding half-million dollar homes. Which, as you suggest… not exactly a leap. But they certainly weren’t going to provide affordable living for the very people the residents would have required to staff their dream retail development.

      As of 2008, Blaine hadn’t approved a plan for apartments in 18 years. High-end rental townhomes were approved for another quadrant of The Lakes.

    2. Michael RodenMichael Roden

      Although, to be honest, I would much rather see Blaine *not* grow and see our cities grow instead. This is a situation where I am outraged by the 1+1=3 mentality of these people wondering why Kowalski’s wouldn’t want to open a store in what is essentially a McMansion gated community.

      The Lakes of Blaine promotional video:

      It gets good at about 1:45

    3. I Am A Person

      Here, I’ve made a counterpoint that addressed the author’s general argument about “density” and “luxury housing.” But now, all of a sudden, the article isn’t about “density” and “luxury housing” — apparently it’s just about a random housing development in some already economically self-segregated community in Blaine.

      OK, so maybe they should have built high-end apartments in this already high-end community so that in all likelihood they could have some high-end chain retail. But they didn’t — cue the world’s smallest violin. If this aptly described “suburban kerfuffle” is all the article is about, it’s not worth publishing imho.

      But that’s not what the article is about! It’s using the Blaine situation as a microcosm for ALL situations where communities object to “luxury” developments! And it dismisses those objections in the most crass, underhanded, shitty way.

      And now you dismiss me (and, presumably, every community that has ever objected to “luxury” developments) as “fake populism”. Sorry, Michael Roden, about the time I trolled your silly article about how dog-walkers are all communities REALLY need. But right now, you’re trolling me–and everyone who doesn’t like disingenuous elitists running the development show–with this nonsense.

      I’ve been reading for a long time, and it is slowly but surely becoming a mouthpiece for pro-development hardliners who whitewash over the socioeconomic realities with so-called “urbanist” buzzwords. (E.g. this article, where non-affordable housing gets whitewashed as “density”.) This community desperately needs a troll, or at least someone who thinks critically about all the upper-middle-class fantasy cities that are envisioned here.

      1. Jessica Schaum

        In my experience living here – it seems residents dislike or object to just about any change – luxury or not. Seniors, apartments, or new subdivisions. Residents just want their house to be there but limit others ability to have the same.

        Even in Minneapolis… cue their moratorium discussion on tear downs and rebuilds. Residents are picky everywhere.

        1. Jessica Schaum

          Teach how cities operate, how planning/development happens, and the public process linking the two to kids every year in school? πŸ™‚

          Then make them interact scenarios with their parents who don’t have the same information or background on how to meaningfully participate.

          (Getting down off of my wishful thinking unicorn now).

          Across the road, north of Main St there is another smaller single family development that has a lot zoned for commercial – yet it’s been vacant and weedy for years. Although these houses were built around the sign advertising commercial use- I imagine once there is something proposed there will be outrage about a XYZ moving in!!

      2. Chris

        I seriously think there’s something wrong with my browser, bc I don’t see how anything that you are ranting about in these comments has anything much to do with the post. You have a number of valid points, but they have nothing to do with the subject presented.

        It’s like going to a post about the Vikings, and ranting on about the Twins–save your pixels for when it’s on point.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          You’ve got to upgrade Firefox with the Polarization filter 2.0. It’s still in beta, but it changes all statements to their maximum extremes. It’s very convenient.

  7. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I was just in this development, visiting a relative. Nice homes and woods, but single-use zoning just doesn’t compute for me. It’s so far away. I passed at least three Walmarts on my way out there, huge 5-lane stroads in the middle of nowhere.

    Motto should be, “Move to Blaine, spend the rest of your life in your car.” (not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

    1. Julie Kosbab Post author

      There’s a local Wal-Mart controversy, too. Although that one has less basis in economics and more in “trucks having to come via a subdivision to dock.”

      The city council meeting at which someone had a meltdown about the new Park and Ride near the ball fields was epic. Did you know that Park and Rides = sex offenders? I hadn’t until I attended that meeting.

      1. Chris

        “Did you know that Park and Rides = sex offenders?”

        I thought it meant prostitution. Learn something new all the time.

  8. Kid Charles

    I suppose none of these shenanigans should be surprising. This is an upscale single-family home development centered around a manicured lake on the edge of civilization in Michele Bachmann’s congressional district. It might be the most suburban suburb in the world.

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