Entries Tagged 'Developers' ↓

The irony of the Warren Buffet invitation to the RR Relocation press conference

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I read this;

Heather Hitterdal, communications specialist for the city of Sioux Falls, said Friday that Mayor Mike Huether sent formal invitations to Obama and Buffett, but neither is able to attend because of prior commitments.

As many of you may not know, we have to go back into the way-back machine on this project to explain my fat belly laughter I got from this supposed invitation. First off, this project was initiated by Mayor Munson (who is out of town and will not be in attendance today, I am told). At the time, I liked the idea, we would have been moving most of the tracks out of downtown (isn’t this the real reason we should be supporting the project?) Instead, we are handing over $27 million of pork to the RR. Getting polluted land that we may be able to sell for $2-3 million when it is all said and done, and MORE train traffic in other parts of downtown, including just a few blocks from my house next to Avera where there is another switching/staging yard that will still remain with two tracks still running parallel to the 10 acres we purchased. In other words, for those of us who live, work, and travel downtown, we may be experiencing more headaches just so we can free up 10 acres for a parking lot.

Besides the fact this is an obvious boondoggle for the Railroads, this project has morphed into many different monsters over the course it took. There was a big push to move the project along during the debate over the Events Center location. See, these 10 acres would have made a perfect spot for an Events Center parking lot, and with the contamination, it is probably all it is good for anyway. The idea was simple, build the EC next to Cherapa, move the RR project forward and use the land for parking. We would not have had to deal with selling the land or worried about potential cleanup. The group that was behind Build it Downtown were so adamant about their idea for parking, rumor has it, one of the members was able to arrange a very brief meeting with Warren Buffet in hopes it would move the project along a little faster. The city of Omaha was able to garner such a meeting with Mr. Buffet when they wanted to move some tracks, and Warren said, get-R-done. I’m not sure who was all invited, but I do know that Buffet agreed to the meeting (that never happened) because one of the main players that needed to be at this meeting declined to attend. We will let you speculate who that may be.

Like I said, I know very little about the details, and maybe this is all folklore and such, but if it isn’t, it sure makes the mayor’s invitation ironically funny.

Visually Interesting and amazingly deafening

Speaking of boondoggles, let’s talk siding, you know that stuff clinging to the Events Center for dear life.

For the record, I KNOW NOTHING. I have heard about 4 versions of what is being done, and to tell you the truth, not sure what to think of any of them, so I will keep those conclusions to myself.

The reason I mention the siding (in another ironic move today by the mayor) while everyone will be celebrating the big $27 million dollar pork sandwich to the Railroads today, today is, as I understand, the year anniversary of the city taking over occupancy of the Events Center (or maybe it is tomorrow?). In other words, the hammer on the EC siding mediation needs to come down this week. Like I said, I have many opinions of what should happen (ideally be replaced and paid for by Mortenson) I am clear about one thing; whatever is decided, the public should be told in an open meeting, and the council should vote on a resolution to approve the decision (or not to). At the end of the day, it is really about transparency and the public deserves to know who is responsible for signing off on the siding for our $180 million dollar investment. We’ll see how the administration and Fiddle Faddle play their fiddles on this one.

When the super wealthy screw taxpayers, they are protected

Just another rich developer/banker in Sioux Falls getting out of paying up;

The city’s lawsuit seeks to recoup $279,000 in utility costs from the high-end Arbor’s Edge development, where Kent Vucurevich was a partner in the project.

When asked what an insolvency would mean for the city’s lawsuit and the taxpayers who funded the improvements at Arbor’s Edge, Diane Best, an assistant city attorney, declined to comment.

Yeah, we have no comment because we would hate to admit the taxpayers are getting screwed out of this money. But when the SFPD Swat team blows out windows of innocent property owners or fire hydrants destroy businesses, we save the city a lot of money by not paying out risk management insurance claims. Besides, we need to spend that money on unwinnable lawsuits in Indian country.

Billion Re-Zoning, (Guest Post Greg Neitzert)

The rezoning proposal for Billion Auto at 41st and Duluth is now online.  Here is my analysis.
As I suspected would be required, the proposal is to rezone the block (excluding the dental office which Billion does not own) to C-4 commercial.  This is the most intense commercial use (regional commercial).  It needs to be repeated that the proposal is to rezone to C-4 commercial, the most intense commercial use there is, which will be across the street (literally) to single family residential uses.  It also should be noted across the street is about 54 feet, a non-standard local right of way.  We’re not even talking about across a collector (80 feet) or an arterial (100 feet).  
Per the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, it does not mean you CANNOT do it, although you could.  What it does mean though is that the buffering will have to be extensive and the most extreme to mitigate the incompatibility.  The staff report indicates a compatibilty rating of 2 between this C-4 and the single family to the east and north.  Based on what is really there (single family) it should be a 1 (the least compatible) but it is scored a 2 because the zoning districts next to each other determine the compatibility rating, and these homes have the bad luck of being zoned RD-1 (twin home) district.  Remember the Twin Eagle Estates neighborhood at 85th and Audie?  Anyway, based on what is really there, it really is a 1 for compatibility, but based on the compatibility chart, it is scored a 2.  But we should look at what is really there, which makes it a 1.  They then print the description of a compatibility of 2, instead of 1.  That is correct based on what the chart says, but its too bad we don’t score it based on what is really there.  A score of 1, which this really is, gets you this guidance from Shape Sioux Falls:
“High Incompatibility: The new zoning district is incompatible with adjacent land uses. Any development proposal requires a Planned Unit Development and extensive documentation to prove that external effects are fully mitigated. In general, proposed districts with this level of conflict should not be permitted. Examples include heavy industrial uses proposed on sites adjacent to low- or medium-density residential uses.”
Interesting to note that if it was scored a 1, the comprehensive plan says this generally should not be permitted.  
There are 420 new parking spaces indicated for parking and display of cars for sale.  Parking this large requires a C-4 designation, so C-4 is the appropriate proposal in that regard.
As I had stated a few weeks ago, a level D buffer yard is required on the north and west side of the development, the biggest buffer yard, because there is C-4 proposed to be next to single family.  The Level D Buffer Yard is 45 feet of green space, landscaping, and berming/fencing.  However, the buffer yard can be reduced by 50% if there is a right of way (ROW) between the incompatible uses (which is true here).  So they could technically do a 22.5 foot buffer yard on the west and north side.  They are proposing a 25 foot buffer yard with a 4 foot berm adjacent to the parking lot and a retaining wall to support it.  I had indicated previously I did not think this buffer yard cut in half was enough.  Staff indicates that they believe the default buffer yard is not sufficient as well:
“Although, the submitted landscape plan appears to meet the buffer yard requirements, with the Compatibility Chart as a guide staff feels a project of this magnitude within an established residential neighborhood warrants significant buffer yard, screening and landscaping plans. Therefore, staff feels an alternative site plan should be approved by the Planning Commission. This should allow more time for staff and the applicants to come up with a landscape and buffer yard plan that will address the neighborhood concerns.”
Staff makes the following recommendation:
“Because the subject application is consistent with the Shape Sioux Falls Comprehensive plan and potential incompatibilities can be minimized with the required buffer yard, staff recommends approval of this rezoning, with the following conditions;
1. An alternative site plan including detailed buffer yard plans, be approved by the Planning Commission;
2. The proposed 113 employee parking spaces (61 within the new parking lot and 52 behind the existing Billion Auto-Kia building) will be permanently marked and reserved for Billion employees only.”
My thoughts and concerns regarding the recommendation from staff:
1.  I would add a third condition, that no structures be allowed on the newly rezoned portion.  There is absolutely nothing stopping Billion from adding structures at any time in the future once it is rezoned.  They could be quite large as well with C-4 zoning, as long as they could meet the parking and other standards.
2.  Hopefully the required parking for employees is enough.  This will only work though to the extent that the applicant actually enforces this and makes their employees use them, and/or the city enforces this condition.  I’m not fully convinced about this.
3.  The city indicates that they recommend approval based on requiring an alternative site plan.  Shape Places allows a rezone with conditions – 160.650(e), and one of those (2) is conditioning an alternative site plan to mitigate incompatibility and transition to other zoning districts.  They also indicate it would give staff more time to work on this.  To explain this, mechanically there would be a rezone, which must be approved by the city council, which would have this stipulation (requires an alternative site plan).  Next, the applicant, before they could proceed, would have to bring an alternative site plan to the Planning Commisison for approval, which would depict and outline an alternative buffer yard proposal, for example bigger berms, more green space, different fencing, whatever.  The problem I forsee with this is that an alternative site plan goes to the Planning Commission who has final authority.  It does not go to city council, nor is there an appeal to city council available like there is with a conditional use permit (an appeal procedure) or a rezone.  Therefore, once the council approves the rezone with the stipulation that an alternative site plan has to be approved, they lose control of the details, because it won’t come back to them.  They then have to trust that the Planning Commission and staff will bring something forward and approve something that they are satisfied with.  They have no power once they rezone.
Personally, I wouldn’t have vacated Duluth.  But we’re here now.  If we go forward with this, I believe the buffering has to be extensive.  Either it has to be an extremely large buffer yard, or, perhaps a portion to the west could be rezoned to something else to transition between Billion and the single family.  I guess if I was going to approve it, I would require a 45 foot buffer yard, with a 6 foot berm, and extensive landscaping at a minimum.  I think the major issue that the council will have to deal with is losing control of the details if they rezone it.  I think they need to figure out how to stipulate what they desire in the rezone.  Perhaps they will need to stipulate certain minimum requirements for the alternative site plan in the buffer yard in the rezone, for example “rezone to C-4 with the condition that the alternative site plan incorporate a buffer yard of 45 feet and a 6 foot berm” (as an example).
The council needs to ensure that if they approve the rezone, that they stipulate the conditions necessary before they lose control of the process.  I believe that point is at the rezone itself.  By agreeing to vacate Duluth Ave, they have a responsibility to the homeowners and neighbors.  It is up to them to protect them and to ensure that sufficient conditions are in place to mitigate such an extreme incompatibility.  Once they rezone, I believe they lose control.
Another option, which may be best, would be to defer final action until they can be shown an alternative site plan, which they could condition the rezone on the Planning Commission adopting that specific alternative site plan that they see (and get a chance to even modify) before it goes to the Planning Commission.
UPDATE: The neighborhood next door is zoned RD-1 (Twin home) even though they are single family, since they are zoned RD-1 they get scored as if they were twin homes on the compatibility matrix.  That means they score a 2 which is medium incompatibility.  A 1, if they were scored as what they really are, single famly homes, is high and the description says that in general this high of incompatibility should be denied.

They have the bad luck of having been zoned twin home district.  If they were zoned RS or RT-1 (residential traditional single family) they would have a 1 score and have more protections per the comprehensive plan.
This proposal probably should not happen at all, and if it is going to the mitigation needs to be extreme.


Good luck stopping the re-zone train in Sioux Falls

Another group of neighbors get a re-zoning surprise in their neighborhood;

Residents of a western Sioux Falls neighborhood are raising concerns about a zoning change planned in the Rocky Ridge housing development off West 12th Street.

Orange signs began popping up in the area earlier this week, notifying residents that an application has been submitted to rezone a lot in the neighborhood from a conservation district to low density apartments.

Nearly 80 homeowners have signed a petition against the change that could pave the way for multi-unit town homes in the neighborhood.

I guess as I have watched how the planning department (mostly), planning commission and city council treat neighbors of planned re-zones and development over the past several years, all I can say is ‘good luck’. Developers will always get the upper hand. First off, because they own their land, and secondly because something commercial will eventually have to be built next to you. Is it fair? Not sure. We live in a growing city, even things change in my neighborhood, and I live 1 mile from the core of downtown.

“I’m not going to pay taxes on it for the rest of my life, I’m not going to do that, so something is going to happen with that piece of property, and I think personally this is by far the most attractive value for the dollar, for our houses.”

The homeowners against the rezone say they plan to address the Planning and Zoning commission at the public hearing that is scheduled on Wednesday, September 2 at 6 p.m.

The landowner says it himself, he invested in the land, and he is going to do something with it. But I will defend the neighbors on one level, the process of how these re-zones happen is not good.

Billboards, Parking & the Board of Adjustment, Aug 17, 2015

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Sioux Falls City Council Public input, 8/11/2015

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Below is the final page of the written comments by Greg N. that he ran out of time for during our ‘TIMED’ public testimony (see the entire comments here: GregInput8-11-2015 )

Summary, Questions, and Concerns

This is NOT about this particular application, it’s about the PROCESS

In my opinion this hearing in no way fulfilled substantive due process

How are citizens going to have a voice if staff misrepresents the clear language of the code?

I am not a lawyer, but I can read, and the code is CLEAR and UNAMBIGUOUS

What is the point of a conditional use permit hearing if the governing body is told they cannot deny it and they are severely restricted in what they can consider and condition – both of which are found nowhere in the code!

Staff commentary is a personal opinion, directly contradicts the code, and is not appropriate for consideration

Due Process ONLY exists if citizens have a SUBSTANTIVE opportunity for input and a FAIR hearing

How can a hearing satisfy due process when staff, who guides the governing body, misrepresents the powers and duties of the commission?

If staff wants to force the Planning Commission (and City Council) to grant every conditional use permit, they should bring the ordinance forward

Similarly, if staff wants to force the PC and CC to restrict its considerations and conditions to a list of specific items for a use, bring the ordinance forward

All citizens should be very concerned if this is the direction staff is giving to the Planning Commission

Under these arbitrary rules, the deck is stacked, and the conditional use permit hearing essentially serves no purpose

UPDATE: Who is missing in this picture?

Go to the Argus website and toggle down to the videos. There is a video of the Governor talking in a luxury suite at a Twins game in Minneapolis to business prospects for the state and the city of Sioux Falls (Dennis mentions Sioux Falls in the video). So who is missing from this grand party that got a lift on a private jet?

Let’s see, we have Slater Barr from the SF Development Foundation, we have Scott Lawrence (whose company gets most of the advertising contracts with the state), you have the governor’s wife, heck, and I think Jodi Schwan even hitched a ride.

So we are talking about recruiting businesses to South Dakota and specifically Sioux Falls, wouldn’t you bring the city’s number one cheerleader? Was he invited? Maybe him and the GM of Stormland-Sick Kids TV had to go to a Greenbay game?

Either way, I find it curious that there wasn’t even a representative from the Mayor’s administration (like Darrin Smith) along for the ride. At least we had Jodi Schwan (a former city employee) representing our Boomtown.

Jodi Schwan for Mayor in 2018!

UPDATE: (From a reader) The community development office was represented there – they sent this guy who got hired earlier in the year. But he wasn’t on the private jet. 

Greg Neitzert offers his idea options on Billion’s proposed street vacation

I have been thinking about a possible alternative to vacating Duluth Avenue that would still largely accomplish what Billion Automotive desires, which is more parking.  The last time this was presented to the council, they were given a binary choice, vacate and later get a petition to rezone one massive parcel into commercial, combining the current Billion lot, the vacated right of way (Duluth Ave) and the block of houses Billion currently owns.  All of this would be rezoned into one giant commercial parcel.  The council denied the vacation, largely over concerns of the impacts vacating Duluth Avenue would have on Norton Avenue (specifically increased traffic) and the impacts on neighbors (particularly on Norton Ave).  Or, deny the vacation and Billion does nothing.
A third option occurred to me, which I plan to present to the council unless it becomes clear that this will not satisfy what Billion desires.  Note that I have not discussed this with the applicant nor the neighbors.  I do not know if this would satisfy the needs of Billion, but it could be a good option, and a compromise to give them at least some of what they need, while protecting the neighbors and eliminating the concern about increased traffic on Norton Ave.  This third option is an accessory off-site parking lot, which is an option for certain zoning districts, including commercially zoned property.  An accessory off-site parking lot is simply a parking lot that serves the principal use (in this case Billions) that is not located on the same legal parcel (it would sit across the street) with Duluth Ave NOT vacated.  An accessory parking lot must be within 250 feet of the parcel it serves, which is true in this case (Duluth is an approximately 60 ft. right-of-way).  The parking lot across the street could be used for parking of employee and customer vehicles.  It may be useable to park operable vehicles waiting for repair or with repairs completed.  What it could not be used for would be cars for display and sales. In other words, new cars for sale could not be on this lot.  That is my reading of the zoning ordinance at least.  Motor vehicles sales is not listed as something that can be done off-site.  I do not know what Billions is looking for in terms of car sales space vs. employee/customer parking, but this accessory off-site parking lot would allow them to move their employee parking across the street and customer parking as well if they wished, thus freeing up space on the primary lot.  This lot would have to be rezoned commercial so it matches the zoning of the primary use (this is/was the stated policy of Planning the last I knew) and it would have to be zoned regional commercial (C-4) to allow this much parking.
 I would stipulate the following as conditions on the rezone (which is allowed with Shape Places and has been done multiple times in the last year):
1. This parcel/block could only be used for parking – no structures are allowed.
2. OPTIONAL: I would specify that the Level D Buffer Yard (which requires a 45 foot setback when adjacent to residential) could not be reduced.  The zoning ordinance allows the buffer yard to be reduced by 50% when a right-of-way separates the use requiring separation and the sensitive use it must buffer from.  In this case, this block would require two buffer yards – one on the north (with 39th Street between it and the single family homes to the north) and one on the west (with Norton Ave between it and the single family homes to the west).  If the buffer yard was not reduced, they would have to provide a 45 foot buffer yard with 6 foot berm or fence and extensive landscaping on the north and west sides of the block which would provide a very large buffer between the parking lot and the single family homes to the north and west.  A berm that high and/or a fence would shield the single family homes from the parking lot quite effectively.  If this condition was not stipulated, the code would allow Billion to cut the buffer yard in half on the north and west (to 22.5 feet) because the code allows a right of way to serve as half of the buffer yard (when the right of way is a local or collector).
3. OPTIONAL: I would specify that ingress/egress must be off of Duluth Ave and that no access be allowed off of Norton Ave or 39th Street.  Additionally, I would possibly specify there could be no off-street parking on Norton Ave.
I have created two different diagrams showing a concept with and without the buffer yard reduction.  I calculated the number of parking spaces that could fit using assumptions that included 90 degree parking, standard width and length parking stalls, and standard width access aisles.  The numbers I came up with are only rough estimates, but demonstrate an extensive amount of parking could be created on these two city blocks even with extensive buffering.
Note that even if the rezone is successful (with or without conditions), Billion would have to obtain a conditional use permit because an accessory off-site parking lot located closer than 250 feet to a sensitive use would be required to obtain a conditional use permit.  Shape Places does not address a case like this, where you could add conditions at a rezone and then have a conditional use permit required right after it (where MORE conditions could be added).
The pros of my approach is that Duluth Ave is not vacated, which means there are no new impacts to Norton Ave from increased traffic load or on-street parking by Billions employees.  In addition, with the extensive buffering required, the neighbors will be protected.  The cons of my approach are that by not vacating Duluth Ave, you do not remove an access onto 41st that will continue to cause traffic issues in the future.  This intersection in a newer part of town would not exist to begin with because 41st and Minnesota is at the intersection of two arterials, so access points should be a quarter mile away.  In a newer development, Duluth Ave would never be allowed.  This could possibly be mitigated through other options Billon could be required to do like a deceleration lane or some other transition onto Duluth Ave.  The other down side (for Billions) is that the lot could only be used for parking of employee and customer vehicles.  It could not be used for auto sales and display.  If the street were vacated and the entire area turned into one massive parcel, they could use the area for auto sales and display.
This proposal may provide a way to give Billions some extra room to grow, while also protecting the neighbors.
Greg Neitzert


Is the City of Sioux Falls having a change of heart about ‘Washington Square’?

Not sure, but this press conference has me curious;

Come to the news conference to learn more about the Washington Square project and how City officials are proposing to support the project.

As I have said in the past, I was opposed to the massive TIF requested for this project, but I wouldn’t be opposed to something scaled back, like a low interest community development loan, financial assistance with cleaning up the alley and upgrading infrastructure in that part of Downtown, even some kind of lease agreement with the city on parking. But a large TIF for condos doesn’t float my boat.

Does the Railroad Relocation project have any value to Federal & City taxpayers?


The (forced) announcement today, where the mayor announced NO questions from NON press. I guess we can’t ask how you are spending our money.


The depot will remain under the poorly proposed plan

While nothing has been signed yet, the redline of the project was completed on Monday. The environmental study revealed that low levels of petroleum and lead were found at the site and 6” of brownfield will have to be removed before doing any development in the area. We will also have to put a security fence around the project while it is being prepared for development.

Where I see no value in the project is that two major RR lines will still remain downtown, which I assume will become even more busy. One of them crosses Cliff Avenue, and frankly is a pain in the ass as it is. I also don’t see the value in buying land to prepare an old RR yard for developers to buy. Then there is the relocation costs associated that we are basically giving to the RR. They are the ones moving, it shouldn’t be on the backs of taxpayers to help them with the move. While the developers will be required to do their own environmental study at the time of purchase, I still think all along this should have been a private matter between the RR and the developers. While the Feds did have to be involved, our city government should have kept its nose out a deal that is just going to cost us more money in the long run and not really solve the problems with train traffic downtown. According to the Mayor, it sounds like it is just going to be another park. Big whoop. How about cleaning up the park just 2 blocks away to the North?

The mayor, of course had to bring up the naysayers and how this project is bigger than the Events Center (thank God we are only building a fence and not siding a building). I find his ‘naysayer’ comment a bit hypocritical. I remember Huether being the biggest naysayer about this project when we were debating whether or not to build a Events Center downtown. I truly think that really put a hiccup in the process.

The city council will only approve this through a resolution on August 4th. No real discussion, no public input, no debate.

While I am happy that the tracks will be moved out of this area, this project is nothing more then another handout to the already super rich developers in our city AND it does nothing to end rail traffic downtown. Huether, Johnson, Daschle and Thune, thanks for nothing, but more federal debt. Ironic how Huether makes fun of Washington, but gladly takes money from them. He did it after the ice storm, and now with the RR relocation project.

Click to enlarge below graphic of press release;