Crystal Planning Commission Recap – November 2013

There were three items on the agenda for the City of Crystal Planning Commission Meeting on November 12, 2013:

  1. Conditional Use Permit for an 8 foot fence. 

    This was pretty non-controversial, the measure passed unanimously after a brief discussion.The owner of a new liquor store wants to install a new fence and new lighting on his property. City code only allows for a 6 foot fence, so a conditional use permit was required for the 8 foot height. The only minor point of contention was that apparently the “good” side of the fence (the flat side) has to point toward your neighbor’s property while the fence posts need to be pointing toward your side. We also required that the owner remove the fence posts from an old fence after concerns from the owner of an adjoining property.

  2. Consider amending city code to allow multi-color electronic signs. 

    This topic generated much more discussion than I expected. The same liquor store owner wants to be able to install a multi-color digital sign outside his store, but that is not currently allowed by city code, so he requested that we change the code.The property directly across the street, which is in New Hope, has a sign like this right now. The signs are allowed in all neighboring cities.City staff looked at surrounding cities and came up with a proposal to allow the signs as long as they met light level restrictions, didn’t display any animation, and kept the image on the screen for a minimum of 2 minutes.I personally felt that the restriction on animation and the screen minimum were unnecessarily restrictive, but that was a minority view among the commissioners.  There were a few commissioners who opposed the signs at all, lest we turn Bass Lake Road into the Vegas Strip.I did ask the city staff if the proposed restrictions on animation and display length were based on any hard data, or just on what other cities are doing. My concern is making bad policy simply for the reason that “other people are doing it.”  The city planner said the decision was made based on “common sense” rather than any specific data.

    There was debate about putting the process on hold until we could discuss it further, or possibly allowing the signs only with a conditional use permit. I spoke out against waiting, as we had a new business owner that had a reasonable request, and I didn’t want to delay him any more than necessary.

    The commission voted 6-3 to recommend the proposed code changes to the city council. I voted yes.

  3. The third item was an update on the Met Council’s preliminary 2040 forecasts for Crystal. There’s enough here to warrant a separate post. The bottom line is that the city will continue to push back against Met Council “projections” which are, in the city’s view, pure nonsense.

Update on the Crystal Police Department’s Alleged Corruption

I wrote about the alleged issues in the Crystal Police Department a few months ago.

My bottom line conclusion at that time was that allegations of widespread corruption were unfounded, but I left the door open on the potential for management issues based on not having all of the facts available. After reviewing new information, I stand by that assessment.

My biggest complaint during this process was that an outside group from Minneapolis was agitating against the city, and was trying to circumvent the normal processes that are in place to resolve these types of complaints.

This is a position that I shared with the Crystal Police Officers Union and the Crystal Police Supervisors Union.

The city released an update on the issue earlier this month.

In the update, we learn that one of the officers who had been removed from duty, Alan Watt, has now been reinstated.  Watt went to arbitration on one of his complaints and it was found that the city had just cause for imposing discipline. He has two other complaints pending.

The other officer’s grievance process is ongoing.

As for the allegations of corruption, there is an ongoing investigation by the Police Officers Standards and Training Board (P.O.S.T.).

There are processes in place to address all of the issues that have been alleged, and in all cases the processes have been followed. These processes take time.

I have always found it ironic that the outside group agitating in Crystal accused the city of not following proper procedures, but then wanted to throw procedures out the window and just fire the city manager and the police chief because they said so.

I have full confidence that Crystal Mayor Jim Adams and the majority of the members of the city council will handle this issue in a responsible manner. If there are issues found with city management, they will be dealt with.

I am also glad to see the city communicating about this issue in a proactive manner, and look forward to the ultimate resolution so we can all move forward.

Reviewing The Met Council’s 2040 “Projections”

As a member of Crystal’s Planning Commission, one thing that I deal with is the City’s comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan outlines the city’s plan for growth over the next 20 or so years. A city is required to have one by state law, and the document requires Met Council approval.

The next update to the comprehensive plan is due in 2018, and covers the period to 2040. Even though we’re still several years out, the Met Council has already begun work on the 2040 plan.

The planning commission recently received information on the Met Council’s “Preliminary Forecasts” for 2040, which was focused on three areas: Population, Households, and Employment.

In each case the Met Council’s “forecasts” were not based in reality.

Crystal is projected to see an increase of 28% in population, 35% in households, and 55% in employment by 2040.

To reach the population and household numbers, Crystal would have to see growth increase by a rate of 5 times more than the rate we achieved during the housing boom of 2000-2007.

Said another way, we need to add about as many housing units per year for the next 26 years as we usually add in a decade. It’s just not going to happen.

The employment number is even more insane.  I’m not sure where the land comes from for all the new jobs, since we’re supposed to be using it all to add housing units.

Crystal’s city planner attended a workshop with the Met Council to discuss the city’s concerns with the “projections”. The concerns were echoed by the planners from other cities, meaning the asinine numbers are not unique to Crystal.

The Met Council admitted there were flaws in the computer models they used to form the projections, but were noncommittal about when or if the flaws would be corrected.

Crystal’s city planner wrote a great recap of the issues with the process, which you can find here.

His update includes this line, which I believe describes the issue perfectly: “maybe [The Met Council’s] ‘forecasts’ are really just MC’s aspirations and should just be treated as such.”

Anyone with even a passing familiarity of the Twin Cities Metro Area would realize quickly that the Met Council’s “projections” are pure make-believe.

A computer model that treats a corn field in Farmington the same way as it treats a fully developed neighborhood is Crystal, as this one does, is pure garbage.

When I first reviewed the comprehensive plan, one of the first questions I had was over the use of the term “projections,” as the projections in the current comprehensive plan are not realistic either. That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

What’s frustrating as a taxpayer is that we have city staffs all over the Metro wasting time responding to the Met Council’s fantasy plan- several years before the numbers should even be relevant.

The Met Council’s “projections” are used to justify demand for light rail, among other things.

It’s clear that the Met Council is more interested in pushing an agenda than providing for common sense regional planning. It’s time that cities start understanding that, and acting accordingly.

Prepared and paid for by the Kolb for Crystal Committee, PO Box 28373, Crystal, MN 55428