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Rockridge Elementary Rezoning

The Rockridge Elementary school property’s proposed rezoning reminds me of the age-old phase “you sleep in the bed you made.” The school district knew from the get go what building zones the schools are in. It also knew the market has its ups and downs. We are now in a down cycle. Why didn’t the district’s budget include a more conservative estimate just in case the market went down?

Homeowners are investors in neighborhoods as well as taxpayers. They deserve a voice in how their investment will be affected by rezoning. The school district forever changed some neighborhoods by closing schools. Now it wants to rezone the properties, which is more change for the neighborhood. Who knows, rezoning may help a neighborhood but it could also make it into something the neighbors did not buy into years ago.

Rezoning will make it easier to sell, the district thinks. Is it the neighborhood’s responsibility to make it easier or is it the school district’s responsibility to budget and plan better?

I’m so glad to see some city councilors slow down this rezoning process to see if the homeowners in this area can meet with prospective buyers to see how their neighborhood will change.  Of course there is no guaranty it will turnout as advertised but at least they will have a bit more insight into what their investment will look like.

10 Comments

TimK

about 6 years ago

So the district can magically predict the worst housing/real estate bubble since the Great Depression? Does it keep more schools open than enrollment dictates? It will cost the neighborhood more in taxes and property values if it can't be rezoned and thus marketable. They aren't asking for it to be turned into a refinery. It needs to be reclassified in such a way to attract a buyer willing to invest in the neighborhood.

Kodiak

about 6 years ago

Couple things about this post: I agree that homeowners are investors in the neighborhood but does that give them intrinsic rights to 20+ acres of wilderness preserve?  The school is permanently closed and the land is tax exempt. Moreover, it is an asset the school district cannot afford to maintain or keep.  Those are the facts and the reality of today is not the historical reality of decades ago. In the case of Rockridge, the property should be subdivided so that the school building could be expanded into an apartment house (a good re-purpose of the building) and the rest of the parcel subdivided R-1 according to the historical plat -- the avenue/street grid.

Inaction by the City Council is only exacerbating an entrenched problem in Duluth. Must we be reminded that the Red Plan -- whatever your opinion of it -- was a means to deal with aging infrastructure, under-enrollment and unsustainable inventory?  The root cause of declining enrollment in Duluth is population decline. How can anyone think you are going to rejuvenate and grow the city if you are going to leave vast parcels of land idle?

Nick L

about 6 years ago

A few things trouble me about your post.  

Rezoning didn't just pop up.  It was publicized some time ago, and Planning Commission and school board meetings are open to the public.  There should even be a sign posted near the school.  The rezoning process doesn't seem like it moved too fast.

The District did a range of projections for the resale value of property.  Those were done before the near-Depression which caught most of the world by surprise.  It's a bit much to criticize planners now for pre-2008 projections.

MomAH

about 6 years ago

We live close to this property. We are an example of the "homeowner- investors" mentioned here. We are not concerned about keeping a private place to walk our dogs or use the trails - as a recent DNT editorial suggested. We have plenty of nearby public trails at Lester Park and we also have Lakewalk. The kids in the neighborhood have plenty of open space as well as playgrounds at the new school and hopefully soon at Lester Park. Keeping 20+ acres of "wilderness" for ourselves is not what we are after.

What we want is to keep the feeling of our neighborhood, which is currently modest and middle-income single family homes. We don't want the added traffic heading toward the end of a neighborhood that mainly consists of dead end streets all around. It is quiet here - out of the way. That is why we paid more to live here even though similar houses cost less closer to Superior Street.

Rockridge was a small school and did not generate a lot of traffic. Also, the school traffic was not there in the summer.

The original commenter asked if it is the neighborhood's responsibility to change to make it easier on the school board, or if it is the school board's responsibility to work within the exisiting framework of the plan they themselves made. I think it is the school district's responsibillity to try harder. There was interest by a private school to buy the building, but that group was turned down, even though the kids going to the private school would be unlikely to enroll in the district schools anyway. 

Once the zoning is changed, there is no control over what the property is used for. It opens our quiet neighborhood up to many uses and changes it permanently. 

The Red Plan has had some successes and some problems. The  board has been good about celebrating the successes. They now need  to solve the problems without asking for more concessions.

[email protected]

about 6 years ago

If the neighbors adjacent to the property want some control over the uses of the property, shouldn't they just buy it?

And while yes, it would be impossible, perhaps, for a single buyer to buy the property, certainly, there could be a collective purchase (the way some cities, for example, have urban gardens that are basically owned by collectives -- those folks aren't depending on zoning to preserve their urban garden;  they are depending on ownership).

I am immensely sympathetic to questions of appropriate development and zoning as a tool to start and stifle appropriate/inappropriate development.  I also recognize that zoning exists to protect the interests of the city, not just the neighborhood.  (When a neighborhood insists that they do not want sidewalks installed, I remember that the sidewalks are not just for the people who live on that block, but for the city in all its diverse residents, now and in the future.  These broader interests trump local neighborhood interests.)

I need more info about what exactly the zoning request is here, but I would like to say to the neighbors who value the land the way it is now:  zoning is not your only tool.

MomAH

about 6 years ago

There are probably buyers out there who would buy it just as it sits, without rezoning, if the price were lower. The school board has sold other properties for less than they had planned on.
  
Rezoning so it can go for the highest price is different than rezoning because it is the only solution available.

If rezoning would actually get the schools enough "extra" money to decrease class sizes and solve real problems, it might be worth it. The district hopes to get $1 million to $1.5 million for the school if it is rezoned. I'd like to know what it can get without rezoning. Then the board should demonstrate how the use of the larger amount of money will make rezoning worth the cost. A cost-benefit analysis would be helpful here.

spy1

about 6 years ago

It's important to note that this is not a rezoning issue. It's a land use map issue. The PC recommended opening up the land use so Rockridge wasn't just R1, which it can never be as it exists. The land use map has to be changed in order to allow anything but a school there. Zoning and/or special use permits come into play later, when there is a better idea of what might be coming in. And that is a whole new round of public process. It seems the neighbors want another school only, which is a bit constrictive given that 1. District policy does not allow it to aid in competition for students and 2. There are a number of low-impact possibilities that can happen if the land use map is opened. This is a gentle first step, and there is a load of public input still in the works.

MomAH

about 6 years ago

As a neighbor, I would be happy to see more houses there. Yes, it was a great spot for a neighborhood school. It is a great spot for a residential neighborhood, too. I don't know any neighbors who only want it to be a school and nothing else.

emmadogs

about 6 years ago

This is going on in my neighborhood too, behind former Woodland middle school, and it's upsetting. We bought our house on a "mostly dead end, quiet, by good schools" street. Now we're going to have a much different situation. I am definitely ambivalent, and wish Woodland middle school would stay zoned for school only. What will change is good (local market, pub, etc.) but also very bad (fast speeding kid-driving traffic, college noise). Had we known the zoning changes were coming up, we might not have invested in this neighborhood.

cosmojr

about 6 years ago

I enjoy seeing all the discussion on this issue of change and think it is very informative hearing from others that have been through this.  I posted this discussion for three reasons.

1. To see how others feel and what their experiences have been when they are faced with rezoning in their neighborhoods.  It sounds like it is similar to my experience.  

2. Because of what MomAH mentioned so precisely, "The Red Plan has had some successes and some problems. The board has been good about celebrating the successes. They now need to solve the problems without asking for more concessions."  I do not think we fully understand how the school district's funding for its massive project has failed. It needs to be exposed; it's more than the local paper can handle.  

3. Find out what others think about the responsibility of city councilors. To defend the city or school districts interests or their constituents.

This is not about stopping development or change in a neighborhood, but it is more about making sure we all understand what's about to happen.  I call it the yin and yang of change.

For those who have only observed rezoning from the Duluth News Tribune's reporting on these maters, you may have been left with the feeling "what are these home owners bitching about," there is a process in place just follow it and good will win the day. That is obvious from some of the comments here. In a way that is correct, until you are faced with it you will not understand that it takes a ton of time, organizing and lots of stress to mention a couple items. Let's not forget that the homeowners most often no nothing of the process and rely heavily on their councilors to help and guide them.  On the other side you have well-organized parties such as developers, school boards and administrations, city planning departments etc. All being paid for what they do and they know the process/system and the ins and outs. The biggest issue I had was all the unknowns "what happens next if this happens or that happens" where the other side is well versed in all of the unknowns and the next steps in the process.

Spy1's comment is a good example of the process.  "Its not rezoning it's a land use map issue." Say what? Do you need a degree in planning to understand all this? I know it sure would help. On this project I am glad to see that councilors Jennifer Julsrud and Sharla Gardner are not only listening to their constituents but also actually understanding them. I'm sure some of the others are also but not all of them.

I'm always amazed at how often some councilors seem to represent "get more tax roll money" more often then representing their constituents. Yes it is about money but it is also about people and their lives. What is the council for anyways? Why not do away with it and let the city do what the city does. I'm not suggesting that but it's a good question.

I understand the need to rezone so the property has a better chance of selling but like MomAH states "Rezoning so it can go for the highest price is different than rezoning because it is the only solution available." I think the school district should look at the agency selling these properties and consider a change. I cannot even find out how the real estate agency is being paid. Does it have a big enough incentive to find buyers, who knows?

From my experience MomAH's comment "Once the zoning is changed, there is no control over what the property is used for" is so true. You will need to stay on top of the developer's ever-changing plans. In my neighborhood the developer got his property rezoned with one plan that the planning department told me not to worry, this plan is a done deal.  Well, eight years later and three plans later it has gone from single ownership homes to nine two-story buildings with eight rental units each to now three-story-high 29-rental units each. At one stage they went for public financing which would have limited rental to incomes less then 60 percent of the median income in St. Louis County. So it is well advised to get out in front of any zoning changes in your neighborhood. You are the only one looking out for your interest and investments.

As an added note, Jay Fosle will most likely recuse himself from a vote. He recused himself when the school district needed the council's approval on a retaining wall for the Ordean/East stadium.

Rezoning can be a very positive thing for a neighborhood, but it can also be a negative. In either case it will be that way for a very long time.

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