The podcast this week is a conversation with James Warden, who as well as writing many fine columns for this site, is running for City Council in Hopkins Minnesota. Warden is a former journalist and media analyst, a zoning and planning commissioner, and a big fan of good urban design. We sat down at the Depot coffee shop the other day to talk about Hopkins, the campaign, urban planning in Iraq, how Hopkins can capitalize on the Southwest Light Rail, and many other things. I hope you enjoy this important conversation.
The link to the audio is here.
Here are a few highlights from our talk:
James Warden on urban planning in Iraq: I like to think of it as what would happen if you took away all the representative government in Minneapolis, and had all the neighborhood associations running things without any support given to the Public Works department, and that’s about what you have in Baghdad.
On Hopkins’ industrial past: It was actually called west Minneapolis at one point. People worked at heavy industrial plants here, and it grew up around the plants. You still see the marks on the landscape, including right where we’re sitting here.
On improving civic engagement: The biggest thing is to be proactive in reaching out to people. You can’t expect people to come to automatically.Frankly, the person who’s a lifer doesn’t know to do that, and expecting someone who’s new – maybe a second-language speaker – they’re definitely not going to do that. It’s a really intimidating process to go to the city to stand in front of city hall. Even just thinking about public speaking, the way the hall is arranged, you feel like all eyes are on you.
On revitalizing Mainstreet: Hopkins had some tough times a couple years ago and it was pretty vacant, but its coming back strong now. We’ve got a couple of renovations, a brewpub, a restaurant. The big thing that’s going to help is getting some population in our downtown a little bit closer. All this is creating a critical mass for when people are doing neighborhood shopping and don’t want to go to Target.
Check out the rest for yourself.
Thanks for the great interview, Bill. I had a blast! If anyone has any questions for me, feel free to ask. I’ll answer in the comments. You’re also welcome to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talkin’ about mah town!
As a new home owner Hopkins I really appreciated hearing a thoughtful conversation on what the city is and what it can be from a candidate.
I’m going to ask a few questions that just popped in my head after hearing your interview.
I know you probably can’t contractually represent your employer in this question but I’ll ask anyway: The Cargill office buildings along excelsior ave are probably the largest office development in Hopkins in recent history. Is there much potential for more development of this type (Cargill or other) to help build the corporate / commercial tax base?
In my opinion one of Hopkins great assists (and a large reason why I bought a house there) is the fact that its the Hub for three of the largest regional bike trails in the west metro. Is there any conversation on making the street crossings for these regional trails feel safer (examples: 11th ave, 17th ave, excelsior, Blake). Granted they aren’t that bad, but most of these intersections require people to stop for you in both directions out of kindness. It would be better to have these crossings more formalized.
This last question is kinda a tough one. Hopkins has a very high percentage of renters and there is all sorts of rhetoric on why this is a bad thing for home owners. So what are the benefits for home owners if they are in the minority? or does it even matter?
Great questions, JN. I’m at work right now and can’t give them the attention they deserve. Sorry for the delay, but I’ll have a response for you this evening.
I’ll take a stab with my opinions.
At the Blake Road workshops we heard from developers all nearly unanimously state that speculative commercial development just won’t happen, the land is far more attractive as residential or maybe retail. The downtown station is likewise primed to attract residential. The Shady Oak station however has potential, according to consultants who spoke at the most recent Shady Oak workshop. The large area by 3rd South, next to 169 north of Supervalu was on the market but bought by Luther Auto to prevent any development that would obstruct views of their dealership. Except small spots near Shady Oak Station Hopkins doesn’t have much land for large scale commercial development.
The Artery and Downtown Station will improve the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail crossing of Excelsior. Three Rivers and Hennepin County are coming up with funding to drop the Cedar Lake Regional Trail under Blake Road.
My opinion on renters, the percentage of renters does not matter. “Renters” has become shorthand to a lot of Hopkins old timers for low income, but it doesn’t need to mean that. Although a large amount of Hopkins renters are lower income, even that isn’t bad for the city per se. Hopkins infrastructure could be much better for getting around the city if you don’t have a car, as is the situation with a lot of lower income people, IMO, but that helps everyone. Having a large population of lower income concentrated in the city, and a city with massive debt obligations to maintain unnecessarily ambitious municipal infrastructure, is bad.
For example, IMO, we shouldn’t be building city residential streets with free car storage on BOTH sides of the street. There are few homes without driveways and garages, providing free car storage on the street raises the cost (and debt obligation to pay/maintain/repair it). Single side parking, and narrower streets would have made all our streets far more affordable. So for me, bring in the renters, come pay taxes and help us afford our stuff!
Sorry for the delay. My answers are below:
1) “I know you probably can’t contractually represent your employer in this question but I’ll ask anyway: The Cargill office buildings along excelsior ave are probably the largest office development in Hopkins in recent history. Is there much potential for more development of this type (Cargill or other) to help build the corporate / commercial tax base?”
As you suspected, I can’t speak for my employer and am not even in the part of the company that deals with that information. That being said, Eric’s comments earlier are spot on. When I left my job at Finance & Commerce close to a year ago, there wasn’t a lot of spec office development going on. Developers said at the Blake Road meetings that that hasn’t changed, and I haven’t seen anything to suggest they’re wrong. There is always the possibility that a specific company will like a site in Hopkins, but that’s not really something you can plan on.
For now, Blake Road’s most likely scenario probably is mixed use with a heavy residential component. I’m intrigued by the triangle north of Excelsior directly across from Blake School. It’s zoned mixed use and hasn’t been publicly talked about much, but it could have some interesting possibilities if property owners there decide they want to sell or redevelop. The Shady Oak station area could see some commercial-industrial, but any development will initially be just making up for the land we’re losing nearby to the station and the operation and maintenance facility.
2) In my opinion one of Hopkins great assists (and a large reason why I bought a house there) is the fact that its the Hub for three of the largest regional bike trails in the west metro. Is there any conversation on making the street crossings for these regional trails feel safer (examples: 11th ave, 17th ave, excelsior, Blake). Granted they aren’t that bad, but most of these intersections require people to stop for you in both directions out of kindness. It would be better to have these crossings more formalized.
First, the good news: Blake Road is scheduled to get an underpass that will be built as part of the Southwest LRT. Hennepin County already has a federal grant that will pay for 80 percent of the cost. Three Rivers is paying for the bulk of the local match, but Hopkins approved its $30,000 share Aug. 18.
As Eric noted, Excelsior Boulevard is expected to have improvements that will make it better for bikes. It’s still going to be Excelsior, but we have a chance to make a real change for cyclists and pedestrians. The city also plans for a redesign of Eighth Avenue that will put in cycle track connecting the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail to the Minnesota Regional Trail.
I agree with you about 11th Avenue. I live in the neighborhood just south of Supervalu and regularly see how bad it is for cyclists. There have been plenty of times when I’ve stopped and cars have blown past me in the other lane. The crossing could definitely use improvement. The tough thing is finding the money. Crossings like the one planned Blake Road are incredibly expensive. A HAWK beacon could be one alternative. I’m definitely interested in exploring it further.
The 17th Avenue crossing is one of the ones I use when I bike to work (at Cargill’s Wayzata campus). It’s not the best crossing, and it does require some negotiating between stopped cars at rush hour. But I’d rank it lower on the list. Cars tend not to go too fast, and there are only two lanes. This isn’t to say it couldn’t be improved. I’d just rather tackle the other crossings first.
3) This last question is kinda a tough one. Hopkins has a very high percentage of renters and there is all sorts of rhetoric on why this is a bad thing for home owners. So what are the benefits for home owners if they are in the minority? or does it even matter?
Actually, this isn’t that tough because I like renters and think they offer several benefits to a community. First, they pay taxes at a higher rate because apartments’ property tax class rate is 1.25 percent instead of the 1 percent for most single-family homes. You also get more value per acre. So there’s a significant financial benefit from apartments. There is also some anecdotal evidence that they helped steady Hopkins’ neighborhoods when the housing bubble burst. While other neighborhoods faced mass foreclosures, our apartments had about a 3 percent vacancy rate. They also fit well with the transit improves planned for the community.
To the city’s credit, officials have been great at reaching out to renters and pushing back when constituents tried to brush off renters. For example, at one 2012 council meeting residents complained about putting a daycare close to a neighborhood. When the owner noted that nearby Westside Village apartments were doing just fine with a daycare, one of the homeowners said, “But that’s a rental apartment. We are property owners.” Councilwoman Kristi Halverson immediately jumped in to say renters’ quality of life is every bit as important as homeowners. Mayor Gene Maxwell has been similarly insistent about including them. If elected, I will continue with this philosophy. (You can read an op-ed I wrote here: http://patch.com/minnesota/hopkins/video-in-defense-of-apartments)
That being said, my platform does state that I want to continue with Hopkins’ policy of not demolishing single-family home unless a new one is built in its place. This isn’t because I think homeownership is superior. It’s because I want Hopkins to have a variety of housing types. We’re small and completely developed. If a home disappears, there’s not any place to build another. Even with this policy, we should see rental form a greater and greater portion of Hopkins housing. Simple math says that will happen when you add hundreds of new rental units without adding any new single-family homes. This future holds a lot of opportunities, and it will be exciting working with residents of all types to ensure this remains a great place for people to live.
It seems like everyone I’ve spoken with in Hopkins government advocates preservation of single family homes. Removing one means one is replaced, plus with the inevitability we will be seeing increases in rentals by the hundreds in the coming years, it seems sensible.
But in a scenario, say eight homes in a row on a block are acquired, would replacing them with say 24 units of row houses work? What is called “the missing middle”.
The conversation around renters in Hopkins is delicate. Many residents see renters as a drain on resources, I hear it at open houses all the time. Making the financial case that apartments carry their fair share is worthwhile, it seems James has a better grasp of the numbers than I do. I loved James’ recent Streets.mn map showing the productive value of Hopkins homes vs. Minnetonka homes across Shady Oak.
Are there three times as many people that want to live in multi-family housing as in single family detached house? You can build new construction multi-family housing anywhere, but once an affordable house is gone, it’s gone. We’re not building any more of them like we did in days past. Of course the row houses are worth more in taxes, but it sounds like Hopkins is thinking beyond that.