Ramsey County, Arden Hills deadlocked over ammunition plant site project
Just as the final pieces were coming together on the long-awaited remake of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, negotiators are deadlocked, prompting a sharp exchange between the two.
Ramsey County officials have called a time out, saying they and Arden Hills city officials aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on what promises to be the largest redevelopment effort the metro area has seen in years.
“It’s a pause,” Ramsey County Manager Ryan O’Connor said Tuesday. “It’s not a standoff. … We’ve been having a hard time getting to a final shared vision. … This gives everyone time to step back and re-evaluate on what the future needs to look like.”
One sticking point is a county push for higher housing density for the Rice Creek Commons project, making it easier to finance more affordable housing.
“Density and affordable housing are core issues in building a sustainable community at Rice Creek Commons,” O’Connor said in a letter to Arden Hills City Administrator Dave Perrault. “But Arden Hills does not appear open to negotiating these issues further.”
Arden Hills officials appear to view the project as an inconvenience rather than as a benefit, O’Connor said in the letter he sent last week.
City officials didn’t send a formal response to the county but issued a statement, saying the pause in negotiations was unexpected and unfortunate and accusing the county of playing games.
“The citizens of Arden Hills and Ramsey County are tired of politics,” the city’s statement said.
In an interview, Perrault said city officials are willing to return to the negotiating table at any time.
O’Connor said likewise in an interview. But there needs to be a “fundamental shift” in where the city stood on Sept. 4, he added.
“We’re not trying to cut off negotiations,” he said. “We’ve been stuck in neutral at virtually the same place.”
So for now, county officials will divert much of their energies from the Rice Creek Commons project to redeveloping the St. Paul riverfront that long was home to the West Publishing headquarters and the county jail.
Struggling to come to terms
The Arden Hills project encompassing 427 acres once occupied by the former munitions plant has long been a major focus for Ramsey County.
The county has already spent $41 million to acquire land, build roads and clean up the area — once the state’s largest Superfund site. It expects to spend another $51 million for other improvements, pushing its contribution past $90 million.
O’Connor said recent negotiations have county officials questioning exactly how much Arden Hills will contribute, saying it appears to be significantly less than what they expected.
In response, Arden Hills officials in their written statement said they agreed to contribute $8.2 million for infrastructure improvements. But they said the county was asking for an additional $1.8 million to fill a budget gap without first consulting the city, saying it was unjustified.
Another sticking point is housing density. The county and city previously agreed that the project would include 1,460 housing units and 10 percent of that would be affordable housing.
But O’Connor said the market has changed since that agreement and people who attended community meetings argued more affordable housing was needed. Bumping up the housing density would make it more financially feasible to add affordable housing without spending more taxpayer money to subsidize it.
“We have to make changes to a project along the way to make sure we get an inclusive community for all,” O’Connor said. “But Arden Hills said, ‘Nope. We agreed to a number three years ago and that’s where we’re going to stay.’ ”
City officials couldn’t be reached for comment on that.
The project’s developer, Alatus, said in a statement that it supports the housing density and affordable housing initiatives outlined in the plan.
“The discussion to move forward rests with the City of Arden Hills and Ramsey County,” the statement read. “We stand ready to help to reach a resolution.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788