Podcast #89: Talking Columbia Heights with City Council Candidate Sean Broom


Sean and Stephanie in front of their Columbia Heights home.

Hello! I’m rebooting the podcast after a long hiatus. My equipment was stolen along with my bike pannier a while ago, but thanks to the help of some supporters, I was able to replace and upgrade it with some new and better microphones. So thanks to everyone who pitched in! I really appreciate it.

With important city and county elections coming up in a few weeks, I’m focusing on interviews with candidates for local races. And the first one is Sean Broom, a candidate for City Council in Columbia Heights, an interesting first-ring suburb just north of Northeast Minneapolis. Sean is a policy aide, urbanist, and first-time candidate who is running against two incumbents in the 20,000 person suburb, and I sat down with him at Community Grounds, a brand new coffee shop on 40th Avenue, one of Columbia Heights’ main streets. We chatted about all kinds of things, including Central Avenue, development possibilities in Columbia Heights, and what it’s like to be in Anoka County.

Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

On the Heights Theater:

It kind of reminds you of the fact that in Columbia Heights right now you can’t go out to dinner and a movie, you can’t walk from a restaurant into this glorious theater we have along what should be our main street. Columbia Heights is nothing but opportunities; it’s all blue sky here.

On his Council race:

I’m running for City Council because I moved here to Columbia Heights and saw that this is this place of amazing opportunity. As someone who thinks of the urban form around us we are in many ways no different from South Minneapolis or Northeast Minneapolis in the density of our construction and the opportunity we have for economic vitality places to go out on Friday night businesses to have in your community. But I saw that repeatedly through conscious decisions that our government makes we have, a city who is zoned to have a bunch of car shops.

On 40th Avenue:

40th is an east-west, which is at its intersection with Central that is probably the first place we need to look at in the city of Columbia Heights at creating an walkable node of development and orienting what we want our city to be, to grow from 40th and Central.

On tax rates and development

Part of the reason why I talk about the importance of low property taxes are that property taxes are a very regressive form of taxation for folks who live in our naturally-occurring affordable housing. If we have big property taxes, that’s reflected in our rent immediately, especially for folks on fixed incomes. We have a very old and grey section of our community, people who’ve lived here since the 40s, 50s, and 60s, who are now on fixed incomes and who can’t handle big stresses on property taxes. When we talk about equity one of the most important thing we can do is to make sure people have homes.

But, yes, there is a relationship between property taxes and development. You’d hope that in a place like Columbia Heights, you could argue to developers to come here and build here with Anoka County land costs. This has as good of transit access as any place in Minneapolis, and is closer to downtown than much of South Minneapolis. This is a place you want to be. You’d hope that development would further support your property tax base and keep property taxes low for everybody.

Thanks to Dan Choma for the new podcast theme music, and to Richard and Renee Holst for sponsoring this episode of the podcast. If you’re interested in sponsoring the streets.mn podcast in the future, please get in touch.

7 thoughts on “Podcast #89: Talking Columbia Heights with City Council Candidate Sean Broom

  1. Zoey

    Great episode! I swung by to check out the new coffee shop. It is very nice.

    40th street between central and university is awesome. It really seems like a space where a modernized, pedestrian and cycle friendly layout could revive the street.

    Also, Sean Broom is fantastic. Very smart. If I were in Columbia Heights, I’d vote for the guy happily.

  2. Sarah

    I do get what Sean is saying about not being able to get dinner and a movie…except I feel like he’s undervaluing the existing restaurants within walking distance of the Heights Theatre. You CAN walk from a restaurant over to the Heights… the atmosphere isn’t romantic, but there certainly are places to eat within two blocks with totally adequate food. Jimmy’s has great burgers and Royal Orchid and Karta both have great Thai food. They deserve mention despite their lack of hipster cache and attention to interior detail (although it would be great to have something like Fair State in this area!!).

    1. Sean Broom

      That is well taken. In addition to Royal Orchid, Karta Thai and Jimmy’s I’d also recommend El Tequila which has been holding down that Star Bar space for a while.

      My broader point was about the lack of options in Heights, how for a node that should be anchored by the Heights Theater we’ve got no real re-development and growth, which we should expect at a place like 40th and Central.

      Thanks for your comment and the sentiment. I absolutely agree on a brewery and would either be open to it around 40th and Central or the long empty gas station building at 40th and University. If you’re a Heights resident I’d still love your support.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Sean’s running against Bobby of Bobby and Steve’s? That’s earning him yet another donation from me. Bobby and Steve’s is responsible for tearing down walkable street fabric (and valuable tax base) and replacing it with nasty surface parking (classified by the assessor as vacant commercial).

  4. Matt Brillhart

    This is great, Bill. Please do one for the Hennepin County Commissioner race in Richfield, Bloomington, and Eden Prairie (District 5). The winner of that race could very well tip the scales in favor of (or against) a wide variety of urban policies that the county is involved in (transit, bike-ped infrastructure, development subsidies, brownfield cleanup grants, homelessness, etc.)

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      I’m not sure how far the scale would tip towards urban policies, but it’s clear that one candidate wouldn’t be tipping *against* those policies.

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